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The 7 Challenges of Flattened Management Hierarchies

The 7 Challenges of Flattened Management Hierarchies

In our last article, we discussed how organizations could use a collaboration skills checklist to profit in the modern workplace. The modern workplace is increasingly one where management and supervisory lines are blurred or removed. These flattened management hierarchies have been shown to produce many benefits, including:

  • Greater motivation placed on individuals to maximize their own performance
  • People taking ownership of the decision making process, leading to greater agility and speed
  • Teams becoming self-governing, reducing HR responsibilities
  • People increasing their skillsets more quickly and contributing more fully to organizational performance

However, flattened management hierarchies also provide a range of challenges to the organization, its leaders, and employees.

Focusing on the challenges of flattened management hierarchies

When developing a competitive organizational structure capable of challenging in the 21st century, change management must consider needs of the business and its people. Valve Software considered its flat structure to be integral to its business strategy. Company CEO Gabe Newell said:

"When we started Valve [in 1996], we thought about what the company needed to be good at. We realized that here, our job was to create things that hadn't existed before. Managers are good at institutionalizing procedures, but in our line of work, that's not always good. Sometimes the skills in one generation of product are irrelevant to the skills in another generation. Our industry is in such technological, design, and artistic flux that we need somebody who can recognize that. It's pretty rare for someone to be in a lead role on two consecutive projects."

Here are seven challenges that are commonly faced by organizations with a lack of hierarchical structure:

1.     Lack of leadership leads to motivational issues

Not everyone is a self-starter, and flatter structures thrive when its people are good self-motivators. Flat organizations are short on the management numbers to offer individual guidance and instruction.

2.     Decision making processes become blurred

A more collaborative approach may require big decisions to be made by voting or consensus. This can be complicated and slow down the decision making process.

3.     A lack of understanding of spheres of responsibility

When people are challenged to work in cross functional teams and on multiple projects, spheres of responsibility can become confused. There must always be some degree of supervision and delegation, but teams will commonly be self-governing to minimize the supervision needed. The real challenge here is that important issues are communicated to each team.

4.     Processes and procedures lack consistency

When teams are allowed to determine their own best practices, methods of working become disassociated. This produces inconsistences in approach and employees may find it difficult to transition from one team to another.

5.     A lack of recognized career progression

With fewer supervisory and management positions, there will be less opportunity for traditional career progression. Not only this, but with fewer managers to oversee projects and the work environment, high-flying employees could be passed over for promotion or recognition. This could lead to higher staff turnover.

6.     Keeping on top of capabilities and abilities

While the flattened management hierarchy and new way of working will produce opportunities for self-improvement of individuals, it will be more difficult to monitor these capabilities and utilize to enhance the organization.

7.     Traditional lines of communication become defunct

Finally, when people work in smaller, autonomous teams, traditional communication techniques and tools fail to ‘spread the word’. New technologies and procedures will need to be used to ensure communication is efficient and effective.

 

Change is difficult. It needs a strategic vision, a committed leadership, and a set of common objectives that drive employees and teams to achieve. In flattened management hierarchies, organizational leadership will necessarily need to discover new ways to motivate and manage. Best practices will be continuously iterated and will need to be communicated via appropriate channels.

In our next article in this series, we’ll examine how to motivate a millennial generation workforce as you strategize to jumpstart change.

Contact Forward Focus today and discover how a Change Agent Bootcamp, and coaching in Consulting and Facilitating, will help your organization take advantage of the modern, collaborative workplace.

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