HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd

Breaking down traditional organisational structures

Many employers adhere to a traditional organisational structure.
Breaking down traditional organisational structures

Breaking down traditional organisational structures


Examples of businesses who think there is a benefit to subverting the hierarchy…

Many employers adhere to a traditional organisational structure. The CEO dictates the company’s direction and strategic goals and the rest of the business will follow suit; the company’s head will liaise with function managers over the day-to-day running’s of the business but have final say over operations in all divisions.

However, while traditional hierarchical structures may help employees recognise defined levels of authority and responsibility at a business, employee morale, satisfaction and engagement may take a hit if employees feel that their voices aren’t heard or respected, nor are they able to contribute ideas.

2017 research conducted by the University of Birmingham found that employees who have greater levels of autonomy and control over their role reported a greater sense of wellbeing and job satisfaction. Yet despite the benefits, research from Trinity Solutions found that 79% had or were currently experiencing micromanagement at work. Not only can this result in resentment, lack of productivity and difficulty in retaining staff, idea generation from the top may not always provide businesses with the right solutions.

Therefore, not all employers opt for a traditional organisational structure. According to a Forbes article, there are other configurations to choose from including: flat structures which open up the lines of communication and remove authoritative layers within the organisation; holacratic structures which are characterised by a distribution of power among self-governing groups; and flatarchies which are the middle ground between hierarchies and flat structures. While some businesses have tried to champion a flatter organisational structure which is governed by self-managed employees, in many instances it wasn’t long before a pecking order emerged and the leaders at the top were back in the driving seat.

HR Grapevine looks at a couple of initiatives where employers have defied traditional authoritative structures – and given control (within reason) back to the employees.

What is a flat organisational structure?

A flat organisation refers to a business structure with few or no levels of management between senior management and employees. Employees may be supervised by line managers though they are largely given the opportunity to get involved in the decision-making process.

Case Studies


The Landmark London

The Landmark London may have overarching ranking structures in place yet Nicola Forshaw, HR Director at the luxury hotel group, tells HR Grapevine there are certain circumstances where removing the ranks works well. Citing an activity called ‘Back to the Floor’, senior managers are encouraged to go back into uniformed departments, adhere to the same dress code, and work alongside the team for a couple of hours. By breaking down the ranks and defying the traditional conforms of hierarchical structures, the exec team develop a better understanding of the team’s role and gain greater appreciation for the work that their teams do. “In a way we do surrender any rank that we have [for this activity]. For us it’s great because it builds [strong] relationships with teams and it gives you the chance to talk to the teams at a different level. If I or one of the other senior managers went in our suits and said, ‘tell me what you do’ you would have a very different conversation,” she explains.

 
 
 

Gore

The global materials science company, despite having more than 10,000 employees, only has three basic levels within its organisational hierarchy: the CEO; a handful of functional managers; and the employees. Decision-making is carried out by self-managing teams rather than relying on commands from the top to trickle down the organisation. Gore’s CEO Terri Kelly told Harvard Business Review: “It’s far better to rely upon a broad base of individuals and leaders who share a common set of values and feel personal ownership for the overall success of the organisation. These responsible and empowered individuals will serve as much better watchdogs than any single, dominant leader or bureaucratic structure.”

 

AkzoNobel

“Everyone needs a boss, so you can’t get away from hierarchy in some areas but, for me and certainly our culture, [we want] to be as open and honest as we can be with some people,” explains Wendy Baines, HR Director UK&I at AkzoNobel. One way that the firm promotes this corporate transparency is through a relatively new concept called ‘Scrums’. A scrum consists of eight employees from the same geographic area. Employees are selected at random and paired with a member of the Senior Leadership Team. The 90-minute ‘Scrum’ session consists of the employee being asked about the positives of working at AkzoNobel, work woes and understanding of the business strategy with a view to create an action plan for change. “[It’s] a really great way of getting to talk to people and seeing the whites of their eyes, what switches them on and off, it improves visibility of the Senior Leadership Team and it created a more connected and engaged community,” she adds.

 

Many employers adhere to a traditional organisational structure. The CEO dictates the company’s direction and strategic goals and the rest of the business will follow suit; the company’s head will liaise with function managers over the day-to-day running’s of the business but have final say over operations in all divisions.

However, while traditional hierarchical structures may help employees recognise defined levels of authority and responsibility at a business, employee morale, satisfaction and engagement may take a hit if employees feel that their voices aren’t heard or respected, nor are they able to contribute ideas.

2017 research conducted by the University of Birmingham found that employees who have greater levels of autonomy and control over their role reported a greater sense of wellbeing and job satisfaction. Yet despite the benefits, research from Trinity Solutions found that 79% had or were currently experiencing micromanagement at work. Not only can this result in resentment, lack of productivity and difficulty in retaining staff, idea generation from the top may not always provide businesses with the right solutions.

Therefore, not all employers opt for a traditional organisational structure. According to a Forbes article, there are other configurations to choose from including: flat structures which open up the lines of communication and remove authoritative layers within the organisation; holacratic structures which are characterised by a distribution of power among self-governing groups; and flatarchies which are the middle ground between hierarchies and flat structures. While some businesses have tried to champion a flatter organisational structure which is governed by self-managed employees, in many instances it wasn’t long before a pecking order emerged and the leaders at the top were back in the driving seat.

HR Grapevine looks at a couple of initiatives where employers have defied traditional authoritative structures – and given control (within reason) back to the employees.

 

 

What is a flat organisational structure?

A flat organisation refers to a business structure with few or no levels of management between senior management and employees. Employees may be supervised by line managers though they are largely given the opportunity to get involved in the decision-making process.

Case Studies


The Landmark London

The Landmark London may have overarching ranking structures in place yet Nicola Forshaw, HR Director at the luxury hotel group, tells HR Grapevine there are certain circumstances where removing the ranks works well. Citing an activity called ‘Back to the Floor’, senior managers are encouraged to go back into uniformed departments, adhere to the same dress code, and work alongside the team for a couple of hours. By breaking down the ranks and defying the traditional conforms of hierarchical structures, the exec team develop a better understanding of the team’s role and gain greater appreciation for the work that their teams do. “In a way we do surrender any rank that we have [for this activity]. For us it’s great because it builds [strong] relationships with teams and it gives you the chance to talk to the teams at a different level. If I or one of the other senior managers went in our suits and said, ‘tell me what you do’ you would have a very different conversation,” she explains.

Gore

The global materials science company, despite having more than 10,000 employees, only has three basic levels within its organisational hierarchy: the CEO; a handful of functional managers; and the employees. Decision-making is carried out by self-managing teams rather than relying on commands from the top to trickle down the organisation. Gore’s CEO Terri Kelly told Harvard Business Review: “It’s far better to rely upon a broad base of individuals and leaders who share a common set of values and feel personal ownership for the overall success of the organisation. These responsible and empowered individuals will serve as much better watchdogs than any single, dominant leader or bureaucratic structure.”

Akzonobel

“Everyone needs a boss, so you can’t get away from hierarchy in some areas but, for me and certainly our culture, [we want] to be as open and honest as we can be with some people,” explains Wendy Baines, HR Director UK&I at AkzoNobel. One way that the firm promotes this corporate transparency is through a relatively new concept called ‘Scrums’. A scrum consists of eight employees from the same geographic areas. Employees are selected at random and paired with a member of the Senior Leadership Team. The 90-minute ‘Scrum’ session consists of the employee being asked about the positives of working at AkzoNobel, work woes and understanding of the business strategy with a view to create an action plan for change. “[It’s] a really great way of getting to talk to people and seeing the whites of their eyes, what switches them on and off, it improves visibility of the Senior Leadership Team and it created a more connected and engaged community,” she adds.


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