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From manager to coach: transitioning to a flat structure

For the last 15 years of my career, I’ve been a manager. Managing teams of people is what I do best. Or maybe I should say it’s what I did best. What I do now is a little different…

Back in October 2015 I bade farewell to the team at Mayden and set off into motherhood round two. I was officially a manager then and it’s fair to say I loved the ‘people’ element of my job: the highs, the lows and the downright difficult bits. The thing I loved the most was supporting my team to get stuff done and troubleshooting the obstacles and blockers that sometimes got in the way. I was looking forward to becoming a mum again but sad to be leaving the buzz, vibe and challenges of work.

Fast forward six months. I wanted to stay in the loop while on mat leave and during a catch up with our directors heard about a new way of working to improve productivity and unleash creativity: flat structure. This significant piece of work to bring the voices and skills of all Mayden’s staff to the fore was already underway across the business. Everyone would have an equal say in the life and direction of the company.

A ‘flat structure’ meant that every team would become self-managing: responsible for agreeing their priorities, coordinating projects and setting goals. This approach extended to individuals as well. There would just be no need for managers anymore. It sounded really progressive and I sensed the company was on the verge of something brave and exciting. And yet… I was a manager. It was what I did. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me what this meant for my career or where I would go from here. And where would the structure and support for our staff come from if we didn’t have managers?

Well, it turns out that box had already been ticked. A group of volunteer internal peer coaches would support their colleagues with the challenges they faced and help them to them find their own solutions without resorting to managers. The programme was already being piloted among our software developers and the next step was to roll it out to the rest of the staff. I agreed that on my return from mat leave I would leave my manager hat behind to train as a coach, working with a colleague to roll out the programme, train a cohort of internal coaches, and encourage colleagues to sign up to the programme.

Another nine months on and here I am – mum to two little ones, a coach and no longer a manager. I have been genuinely surprised by what I’ve learned about coaching and by how it can change people and company dynamics, as well as by how much I’ve enjoyed shedding my ‘manager’ label and taking on a new identity as a coach. I still get to do the ‘people’ stuff I loved as a manager, it’s just that now I use a whole range of different techniques to support colleagues to draw their own conclusions, find their own solutions, and run with their own ideas. It’s liberating.

To me, it feels like the shift from managing to coaching has been the right thing for Mayden, but we still need to understand what the impact has been across the company so far. We’re going to be doing some analysis over the coming months to understand the effectiveness of the programme. To date half of the company have opted to work with an internal coach and feedback has been positive, but we still need to better understand how coaching is impacting the success of the business and how enabling it is for our people.

So watch this space…

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