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Uber's Management by Committee: Good or Bad Idea?

Hailing an UberFrom Yahoo! Finance: “According to three sources familiar with the matter, Uber will be run by a committee consisting of 14 executives, all of whom directly reported to Kalanick before he announced on Tuesday he would be taking time away from the company following recent scandals and the death of his mother.

“Whether Uber’s new governing structure succeeds — and how long the team will govern for — are two questions that will follow the executive committee, particularly over the next few days and weeks. With over 12,000 employees, Uber is a large company faced with many layers of decision-making and the serious challenge of transforming Uber’s culture following a recent slew of scandals related to allegations of sexual harassment.”

Putting it mildly, this leadership situation is unique. But will it work? To find out, I asked a couple of the best experts on leadership that I know of for their opinions on this matter.

Dr. Atul Teckchandani, Assistant Professor of Management at CSUF, leads our CSUF Consulting teams that focus on leadership issues for our business clients.

Travis Kalanick never had a second in command at Uber. Recently the company announced they were going to look for a COO – but things have deteriorated significantly since then and finding a COO is no longer a top priority. My suspicion is that the governance-by-committee approach is more out of necessity than out of effectiveness. Having the top 14 executives at the company come together every time a decision needs to be made is extremely inefficient. But there’s no logical replacement for Kalanick and bringing in an outside hire would be even more disruptive. I suspect that the governance-by-committee approach is going to stay in place until things stabilize for the company.

Dave Kinnear, Executive Leader Coach for Vistage International, mentors our students in the classroom and has office hours at the CSUF Startup Incubator frequently.

Governance By Committee

There is an old saying that “A camel is a horse put together by committee.” I’m not at all sure this is fair to either camels or horses, however, the sentiment that too many conflicting opinions can ruin a project holds true.

For the Uber Executive Committee to effectively lead Uber and transform its culture, they will have to agree on who will make the final decision and empower that person to do so. From what I have been able to learn, Kalanick was that person who made the final call. They must also agree on how information will be brought to the committee, be processed by the committee and be communicated to the rest of the Uber organization.

I seriously doubt that the Board of Directors will be totally absent from the significant decisions that the team has to make. This particular board has shown that it knows how to step in and govern (see the above background information on how they handled the Covington report). I am confident that the Leadership Committee will have guidelines from the board on what committee recommendations must be run by the board prior to final decisions and actions.

Absent Leaders are Not That Unusual

One of the goals I like to establish with business leaders is that they build a high functioning leadership team that can operate without them. If we do not build such a team, then we earn the epithet of micromanager. Plus, we limit the scalability of the organization by being the bottleneck for decisions. My observation is that just like a wine bottle, the bottleneck is always at the top in organizations.

My concern for the Leadership Committee at Uber is that they may not have been allowed to be autonomous up until now, and so will not understand how to function without direction from the top. I hope I’m wrong about that concern. That is why I call this an interesting experiment for Uber.

Many of the leaders with whom I work have no concern or problem taking long vacations — mostly unplugged — and letting their teams run the show. They avoid making decisions from afar. Most have reported that things actually seemed to run better while they were gone! And their teams love the autonomy.

Growth Opportunity

A spokesperson for Uber declared that the leadership team was strong and that “The entire team is excited by the opportunities ahead of us.” This rings true to me. But it remains to be seen if this group can actually perform as a team. As a friend (an entrepreneur and athlete) puts it, “I’d rather play on a championship team than on a team of champions.”

If the Leadership Committee members at Uber truly believe that the team and company is more important than individual egos, then they have a good chance of coming together as a championship team and transforming Uber. I wish the Leadership Committee and Kalanick good luck and success.

What do you think?


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