Breakfast With Socrates

Emma De Vita checks out Robert Rowland Smith's philosophical approach to management

Philosopher Robert Rowland Smith has written a book called Breakfast With Socrates, which takes everyday activities and looks at them through the eyes of various philosophers.

If he can present something as boring as commuting as an exciting philosophical journey, what does he have to say about management?

Smith leads us to the work of 20th-century management guru Elliott Jaques, who argues that one of the biggest obstacles to getting work done is, in fact, the team. What? Aren't we meant to love the creativity of teams? Don't we all have to love being a team player?

Well, no, says Jaques. Team working fails to deliver on its promise. Because effort and responsibility are shared, individuals are less accountable and, therefore, able to shirk their work. "Everyone and no one is responsible," he writes. "And when the meeting ends it's not clear who's supposed to be doing what."

The best way to ensure work gets done is to eradicate teams and make your organisation or department hierarchical. Chief executives devise a strategy and tell managers what to do. Managers then issue employees with orders. Employees accept the orders without complaint. Job done.

Emma De Vita is books editor of Management Today.

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