Bauhaus vs. Business As Usual: The Case Against Job Titles

No one needs to hear about Bauhaus.

For years I believed it, relegating the 20 th century German art movement to tiny footnotes in presentations. Despite Bauhaus’s impact on my coaching ethos and success, I told myself, business clients – especially the entrepreneurs- couldn’t be bothered. They had bigger fish (funding, market conditions, sales funnels) to fry.

But there Bauhaus was, quietly fueling the insights that benefitted my clients’ outcomes: The value of transparency. The importance of efficiency. And the one I think holds the greatest power: Form follows function.

Form follows function is a Bauhaus basic. It asserts that design for design’s sake is misguided, temporary. Enduring creations are the ones that let practical needs drive organization.

Today, I’m finally motivated to let my Bauhaus flag fly because this one principle, I’ve seen firsthand, has the power to barricade the greatest modern threat to young businesses – a wolf in sheep’s clothing that many startups don’t notice until it’s too late. A threat so real, it puts companies through restructuring nightmares when they should be focused on growth, or even the perks of success: Job titles.

You read that correctly.

Job titles are a serious threat to the rogue industriousness and agility needed to get modern startups off the ground. I know, I know: When starting out, job titles and assignments seem like common sense. After all, the majority of successful businesses use carefully considered job titles. Why not take a page from their book by establishing clear hierarchy and organizational expectations from day one? Without job titles, how will team members know what to do?

The reality is, established businesses can’t be compared to startups, and in startups, job titles impede progress.

Think about it: We explore and describe, ad nauseam, what makes our startups different…but then map them against the same organizational rules used by every other business. These rules introduce separation, hierarchy, and the need to ask permission before moving forward – all enemies of collaboration.

Even more, when job titles infiltrate startups, leadership can be tempted to use inflated titles or vanity titles as incentives to lure talent. The risk here should be obvious: Inflated and vanity titles, by definition, mean that someone is under-qualified for the role they hold. If that role is an essential one – a critical resource responsible for insights and deliverables – the integrity of the startup is jeopardized from day one. This becomes more detrimental if your startup finds success. In the face of scale, demand, and volume, the college pal you appointed VP of Marketing is now doubly unqualified for the role.

So what’s the solution?

Here’s where that Bauhaus chestnut – form follows function – opens the door to business longevity: By radically simplifying organization, assigning people to general teams and avoiding titles and hierarchy, startups will find a unique organizational structure that works for them.

I promise, it’s not as rare or rogue as it sounds. There’s already an emerging model that identifies all company employees, regardless of rank or pay, as what I call a nontraditional multilayer business associate (NMBA for short): Professionals tasked with advancing their respective department alongside similarly title-agnostic team members. Job titles are left by the wayside, engendering modular, free-flowing environments that are increasingly promising.

Beyond the stage it sets for collaboration, there is another reason to shirk traditional organization in favor of this model: People who are truly invested in your business won’t care what you call them. Shunning job titles is a great vetting tool, because personnel willing to come onboard in the absence of a swanky title, or any title, is the brand of loyal partner most startups need during the
critical early phase.

Collaborative, free-flowing workplaces still encounter personnel challenges. But companies looking to swap traditional structure for a nontraditional multilayer business associate model can squash a lot of potential issues and slowdown by letting their company’s distinctive qualities drive their organizational reality.

Build, don’t talk is another essential Bauhaus saying that comes to mind when talking business (which Bauhaus – unlike many other art movements – believed to be compatible with art and artistic thinking). If untethering startups from unnecessary bureaucracy isn’t art in motion. I don’t know what is.

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