When Frederick Taylor published his “Principles of Scientific Management” in 1911, he laid the foundation for the idea of people as an integral part of the production process. Since then, many humanistic views have emerged that recognise people as a unique force in the delivery of work, from Mayo’s experiments with light bulbs to McGregor’s Theory X and Y and Frederic Laloux’s “Reinventing Organisations.” However, the notion that people as a function of the practice of delivery still permeates the management literature.

One of the latest breakaway thinking models that promotes the separation of people from the practice of delivery is the Spotify model, with its focus on Chapters. The concept has great merit, as it recognises the need to foster a culture of innovation and collaboration by giving employees more autonomy and responsibility. However, the Spotify model often fails in practice as the core vision of separation gets clouded and watered down, especially when Chapter leadership begins to shift from a leadership role to a management function.

The Spotify model was developed in 2012 to address the company’s rapid growth and changing needs. It is based on a decentralised organisational structure that breaks down large teams into smaller groups called squads, tribes, and Chapters. Squads are small cross-functional teams that work on specific projects or features, while tribes are groups of squads that share a common goal or mission. Chapters, on the other hand, are communities of employees who share a particular skill or expertise, such as software engineering, data analysis, or design.

The idea behind Chapters is to create a network of peer groups that can support and develop their members’ skills and knowledge. Chapter leads are responsible for facilitating learning and growth opportunities, such as mentorship, training, and knowledge sharing. They are not managers in the traditional sense, as they do not have direct authority over their members’ work. Instead, they act as coaches, mentors, and facilitators who help their members develop their skills and achieve their goals.

While the Spotify model has been successful in fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration, it has also faced criticism for its potential to create silos and hinder communication and coordination across different teams and departments. One of the main challenges of the Spotify model is to maintain a balance between autonomy and alignment. Chapters need to have enough autonomy to develop their skills and expertise, but they also need to align their work with the company’s overall strategy and goals.

Another challenge of the Spotify model is to avoid the trap of turning Chapter leads into managers. When Chapter leads start to focus too much on performance management and control, they lose sight of their primary role as coaches and mentors. They become more concerned with metrics, targets, and deadlines than with their members’ growth and development. This can lead to a demotivating and demoralising work environment, where employees feel micromanaged and undervalued.

In conclusion, Chapters represents a significant departure from traditional management practices by emphasising the importance of people and collaboration in the delivery of work. However, it is essential to recognise the potential pitfalls of this model and to ensure that Chapter leads remain true to their coaching and mentoring roles. By striking a balance between autonomy and alignment and by staying focused on employee growth and development, organisations can leverage the power of the Spotify model to create a more innovative and productive workplace.

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