At my job (Sept. 2011 to Sept. 2013) [an English-language institute ("hagwon") in Korea], there are three "first tier" managers, five "second-tier" managers specific to my campus, and several "third-tier" managers. There are only a few Korean teachers who are not managers. My former British coworker, E., pointed out the ridiculousness of there being far more Korean "managers" than regular workers (i.e., teachers). It seems like a situation right out of "Dilbert".
Today, there are six foreign teachers, none of whom are "managers" in any way, shape, or form.
Formerly, we had M., who was sort of a foreign manager. He was "foreign head teacher", though he was strictly limited to authority over the other foreign teachers. (It wouldn't do for any foreigner to have any authority over any Korean, of course...) He left in late June 2012. For reasons I still don't understand, one or several of the "second-tier" managers (three of whom are distant blood-relatives) saw to it that no foreigner took his place, so there has not been any foreigner with any official authority at all since then, leading to inefficiency, resentment, and a lot of bad feelings over questions of seniority. Now, typical people respect 'commands' from superiors, even if we may dislike them ("We're doing it this way, guys...", "Ok, boss..."), but if it's just some equal, some coworker, strutting over and telling you what to do, there's a feeling of "Who does she think she is?" This leads to fewer decisions being made, fewer collective efforts, less "strategic" thinking, less planning, and inefficiency over delegation of responsibilities. Few are willing to slide into the hated role of "guy who bosses around his equals", so planning is just avoided.
Say one of us develops an idea for a change of course, an idea on how to tighten things up or freshen things up, or make things more more efficient, etc., etc. Any change of course will be more difficult than sliding along in the lazy status quo, so if authority is not attached to a "change of course" idea, people will likely resent it, and likely ignore the "advice". A prolonged situation of a group working together in which no one is in authority may lead to rivalries and bitterness. Most likely, I suppose, it will lead to apathy, as mentioned above.
I describe here what has happened in my workplace since last July. I have seen examples of the resentment I allude to above from all the foreigners here. I mean, when an "equal" waltzes in and "tells someone what to do" (with an air of authority, despite officially having none). Another case is when someone is having private meetings with a Korean boss with the rest of us excluded. I, myself, have been on both ends of this. I guess we all have.
In theory, our direct superior since July 1st of 2012 has been a Korean manager, a tall stringbean of a woman with a soft voice and a bit of a squirrely manner whose English is great but who is nevertheless very hard to approach; who is seriously passive-aggressive; who is often absent and cannot be found; who carries grudges about perceived slights against her; who refuses to listen to constructive advice. I could rattle off several more characteristics in that vein. I suspect, based on what she's told me, that it was this woman who saw to it no one replaced M.
In general, most of our weekly interaction with her is during the Friday "foreign teacher meetings", which happen about 75% of the time. In those meetings, she drones on and on, and often pretends not to know certain pieces of information to save face, which is frustrating.
The thing that really bugs me most about this set-up is this: The people who end up rising to the top in such "power-vacuums", it seems to me, tend towards the sociopathic (to lean on the hyperbolic side), frankly. E.g., Stalin. When power within a group is uncertain, those who are most ruthless in playing one against another, those who are best at manipulating others, tend to end up on top. Not necessarily the most talented, dedicated, or experienced, but the best manipulators. This has also happened at my present workplace (and it is all magnified because the Koreans with real power often can't pick up on Western personality archetypes that might be considered toxic in the West). I am thinking, with this, of one particularly manipulative female foreign teacher.
I am reminded, for some reason, of the idea that "there's a sucker at every poker table, and if you don't know who the sucker is at your table, it's you".