An HR trend that has had organizations in a state of flux, is one of doing away with hierarchy. It’s believed that hierarchical structures stifle people’s individuality, and put too much power into hands of the leadership. Subscribing to the trend, organizations like Zappos, Medium and David Allen, did away with job titles like that of managers, and removed multiple layers, to undo the traditional corporate chain of command.

However according to Stanford psychologists Deb Gruenfeld and Lara Tiedens, “although the forms hierarchies take vary wildly, it’s impossible to find groups or organizations where all members have roughly equal status and power.” Hence, in essence, we cannot ever do away with hierarchies.

With workforces becoming increasingly diverse by the day, there is a strong need to revisit the fabric of organizational hierarchies. Richard Straub, President of the Drucker Society Europe, believes that the issue with hierarchy is that it’s poorly understood and badly applied. Each management layer must add value – not slow down the organization or kill initiative. Keeping in tune with that, we invite you to merge desirable practices of tall hierarchies, with the ideals of flat structures. A well-managed hierarchy is one of the most effective weapons in an organization. Let’s look at what well-managed hierarchies can do.

  1. Create a ‘whole’. When hierarchies are skillfully implemented, each person has a clear sense of what their part is in the organization. It is easy for each member to simultaneously see and feel how his or her contributions aid to the success of the whole, as well as notice the impact of others’ contribution. Success then becomes a collective agenda, as opposed to being contained by one’s individual goals.
  2. Promote collaboration. With reporting layers compressed, the organization begins to assume the structure of a collaborative network, as opposed to a ladder. And with each member aware of their roles, their work increasingly becomes self-managed. Steve Denning, a proponent of radical management says, “there are still hierarchies in a network, but they are competence-based hierarchies, relying more on peer accountability (someone who knows something), rather than accountability to someone simply because they occupy a position, regardless of competence.” Managers, as a result, take on the role of enablers and mentors, instead of monitoring and coordinating tasks.
  3. Achieve consensus. The wholeness of the group guides it to be structured through social cues, common values and emotional intelligence, as opposed to protocol. This results in an organization that achieves consensus faster, does a good job of getting everyone to pull in the same direction and uses collective intelligence to identify and solve problems. Each member is aware of the needs and task of every other member. Hence, they are more willing to be a part of a collective agenda.
  4. Encourage creativity and risk-taking. As an offshoot of its networked structure, the employees have more autonomy in their jobs. They decide how they want to do their jobs, and manage their own progress. This form of freedom is a potent breeding ground for ideation, flow of creativity, and an increased willingness to move beyond one’s comfort zones. Such a dynamic is crucial to employees’ overall job satisfaction, as they feel seen and heard.
  5. Better performance. When designed effectively, the amount of coordination and follow-ups that happen within traditional hierarchies can be reduced drastically. Lesser decision-making bottlenecks make an organization agile, and lead to better performance. Moreover, with factors like autonomy, and sense of belonging, employees are automatically tuned into doing more impactful work.

Though it might be a long drawn process to achieve the desired structure, even small steps will go a long way in building a new design. What are some steps you’re willing to take, considering the impact stated above?

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