Image: Dave Gray, The Connected Company
I have previously suggested that one of the ways companies can build happier workplaces with more engaged workers is to have less hierarchical organizational structures. Sure, hierarchies have their place in command and control, top-down environments such as the military, government and police forces, when decisions need to be made expeditiously, when lives are on the line and accountability is of the utmost importance. But generally, nobody likes being told what to do – especially not Millennials. Thankfully, we are starting to see cracks in the traditional corporate paradigm and companies are starting to explore alternative structures that have been showing tremendous progress in productivity as well as in worker satisfaction. But in order to be successful, there needs to be buy-in from the top of the organizational chain, from management, a recognition that “power” must be redistributed, and ego must be checked at the door. Less hierarchy can be threatening to those who have lived with it for their entire working careers, so making the shift to flatter, self-managed organizations can take some getting used to for older workers.
Reinventing an organization or starting one with a flat hierarchy is not for the weak leader who relies on power to make accomplishments happen; rather, it relies on a strong set of leaders who understand that less hierarchy leads to a more engaged and nimble workforce.
The benefits of a self-managed or “flatter” organizational structure are numerous. According to the Morning Star Self-Management Institute, some of the benefits of self-managed organizations are:
Self-managed organizations need fewer formal meetings, are fluid with job titles, are transparent within their team regarding performance, resolve their own conflicts (but can call on assistance from others to help mediate, if necessary), focus on team (rather than individual) performance, and self-set salaries (with peer calibration), and enjoy equal profit sharing.
Even a simple change in vernacular can make a difference as far as the psychology behind worker satisfaction. You’ll note that several leading companies no longer refer to “employees” or even say that “employees are our best ‘assets.’” Workers aren’t fungible. They cost money to hire and even more to replace. They are truly “human resources.” Playing with the terminology a company uses to refer to workers can help improve a work environment and culture. See Wal-Mart’s “Associates,” DaVita Village’s “Citizens,” KIND Healthy Snack’s “Team Members” and Johnsonville Sausage’s “Members.” Sometimes a name change can make all the difference.
As an African proverb states, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Reexamining our hierarchical workplaces will allow the entire company to go farther in a way that is ultimately more satisfying for workers.
For more information about self-managed organizations, including some case studies, I highly recommend checking out Frederic Laloux’s website and book on Reinventing Organizations.