If you had to draw a shape to represent how decisions occur in your organization; what would you draw? A pyramid or a circle? Shining a spotlight on your business model and how it functions is the first step towards improving it.
Most businesses still operate with an authoritarian, hierarchal, top-down model even though decades of research have illuminated how dysfunctional these are. The pyramid model is plagued with bureaucratic sluggishness, elitist culture that destroys morale, closed communication channels and lack of employee empowerment that kills innovation.
If your business is still working this way; you’ll soon go the way of the dinosaurs. Decentralized and flat organizations are thriving today. These dynamic businesses operate as real teams, where everyone can contribute and has influence, and they’re characterized by agility and innovation and a culture of engagement and shared purpose.
What are some of the signs that your organization is too hierarchical?
Meetings. Do you have lots of them? Do they take place behind closed doors or are they open to all? Are meeting topics and information openly shared with employees afterwards or is only select information and/or directives given to employees?
Decisions. Do they come down from the top or from an elite group? Or does everyone really have input and impact on decisions? Are employees asked for their opinions on processes and policy? How long does it take to make a decision? How long to implement it?
Language. Is an “us” versus “them” mentality in place? Do executives refer to employees as “them?” Do employees refer to executives as “them?”
How do you go about changing a hierarchical business model to a flat, networked team? The most important thing you can do is to get a cultural assessment. Find out how your organization really is working, what effect it is having on everyone involved and how it is affecting your outcomes. Discover hidden assumptions and biases. Get a clear evaluation of the processes at work in your organization.
Measure the organizational climate by getting honest opinions from all employees in a way that they can feel safe from repercussions. Not just criticisms but possible solutions for the problems they see. This is the first step towards building employee engagement and empowerment.
Make this a common practice. Consider surveying employees on a regular basis, on processes as a whole or on a specific goal. Create some platform, perhaps an intranet system, in which employees can freely comment and contribute to decisions and implementation plans, on specific issues and topics. Discover what your problems really are and then listen for solutions. Ask employees how they would do the work they do better, what tools they need, what system would be more effective.
Schedule regular meetings or forums to inform and update all employees on the company’s goals and vision. Try a newsletter or intranet forum.
Consider emotional intelligence training for managers and executives so that they may improve their ability to communicate with everyone more effectively.
Then talk about hierarchical and flat organizations. Talk about company culture. Talk about it frequently so that it becomes a familiar topic. Then you begin talking about the culture and change you want to create in the company. Get everyone’s feedback so that you decide on a plan of action together and everyone buys in. Together agree and decide upon shared vision, values and goals.