Lucy Kellaway, on Radio 4 yesterday evening, asked whether managers merely stifle creativity or in fact have a positive function. She concludes that, despite the idyllic portrayal of some manager-less workplaces, she would opt for the traditional management system.

Despite that conclusion, some of the portrayals of the manager-less workplace were quite inspirational: with a secure workforce of individuals who share a common goal, less rules and rulers means less interference therefore greater productivity and creativity. In short, if we treat people like adults rather than children, they will reward us by acting like adults. The point was also made that discarding management does not mean that employees cannot assist and teach other employees. And for a point that was not made – might less rules mean less need for the more expensive senior positions?

Utopian perhaps. There will always be people who just work for the pay check and who aren’t interested in feeling any wider motivation or brand allegiance. For those individuals, without the existence of explicit rules and managers to set them into context and to enforce them, productivity might be far less than desirable. And there’s a corresponding point, which was only partially explored on the radio show: when senior employees assist and teach their colleagues, they may end up acting as managers. That may end up being more oppressive than the system it tried to replace.

My personal view is that whether they are operational or sometimes legal ones, rules are necessary, and so are (good) managers to enforce them. But that’s not to say that most managers and business owners couldn’t gain something from examining the potential benefits of reducing hierarchy or multiple layers of management. Doing so might well contribute to an increase in creativity as well as productivity.