Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) is an open innovation initiative run by HBR and McKinsey that I have been dipping into from time to time. They recently published this story on the complete removal of management hierarchy from the Morning Star Company.
Processing tomatoes since the 1970s, the Morning Star Company have used social networks and the Colleauge Letter of Understanding in place of the more usual hierarchy of management structure. The basic idea is that you define your own mission statement and activities, which you promise to deliver to those colleagues on the receiving end of your work. This recently got updated from an annual paper document to an online system. Here is the cool part, they use social network analysis to dynamically generate commitment networks in place of org charts, so you get to see who you are working with not who you report to:
I believe they are in the process of adding in peer based rating systems and some reporting tools to take this to the next level. Great stuff. Check out the Self Management Institute for more on this approach
Bosses as Mentor Investors
Also on the MiX site, Tory Gattis posted this idea for turning bosses into mentor investors. The idea here is to focus on the transition from the “boss – subordinate” relationship to one of “mentor/investor – intrapreneur”. This could work well alongside the social networking approach from Morning Star if you wanted a hybrid approach that could handle one type of delegation for financial authority (to a few mentor investors) and a more thorough decentralisation of power to functional groups who only really need to focus on the job at hand, even if they do design it themselves. You could even seed groups with a mentor investor to add in a bit of coaching to the structure.