In traditional organizations with a hierarchy of management, individual contributors often feel like they don’t need to lead, or worse, they would be out of line if they acted as a leader. This creates a dysfunctional organization and a culture where no one will make a decision but “the boss”. No one knows better how to react to challenges than the people doing the work, so why would those people wait around for a decision? The answer is, they haven’t been encouraged to make decisions on their own and fear the consequences of doing so. Talk about being inefficient at a time when we all expect goods and services delivered at record speed. I would argue it’s costing organizations more to pay for managers and lost production time waiting on decisions than they would if they paid for a few mistakes made here and there by employees who were trusted to make decisions on their own.
Flat organizations have been successful empowering employees to make decisions on their own, so why haven’t more organizations transitioned away from a rigid hierarchy and encouraged their employees to lead when they can? I believe it’s due to ego on the behalf of managers who want to show they, and they alone, have the power because someone bestowed the title of “manager” on them so they must be important…. For all of the rapid advances in technology over the past two decades, many American organizations are still stuck with outdated structures and poor leaders. It’s no wonder that employees staged a Great Resignation over the past two years and decided the time was right to find organizations that better aligned with their personal values and aspirations.
I always hear the argument that flat organizations don’t work in regulated industries but it just isn’t true. You can still have the required quality checks and have a workplace full of empowered and motivated employees who feel they are important because the organization relies on them to make decisions. I feel organizations who don’t embrace this strategy will struggle greatly over the next decade and many could fall to disruptors who are operating more nimbly. There are incredibly talented people at all levels of their careers, regardless of title; why wouldn’t we want to let them add as much value as possible and have a team full of people who take action on their own and don’t wait around for the boss?