Hierarchy used to be a mechanism in management for imposing control, procedural organization, and communication flow. Today, however, management is all about reaping synergy and creating a competitive professional development environment in our knowledge economy.
Truth is: Synergy and professional development can be achieved without hierarchy… rendering hierarchy obsolete.
Most hierarchical teams are not equipped with the staff that are required to fulfill team outputs in and of themselves. The expertise you need usually sits in an interdependent team that reports to someone else. The best example is have an HR rep or technology rep who reports to someone else, but supports you and your team. In hierarchies, this poses a communication and role clarity challenge, with expectations of one another often being missed.
Organizations are now leaning towards what I call “teaming organizations” or “teaming approaches”. I started using this term before I even realized that one of the most successful organizations in the universe, Apple, is also one of the few organizations to have implemented it successfully.
Though hierarchy can exist to provide communication efficiency and decision-making clarity, it needs to be subordinated so that true teaming, innovation and execution can flourish.
Here’s the thing: Teams need competence and authority to deliver extraordinary things. Titles, tenure and structure are irrelevant.
To create competence and authority, teams need the requisite variety of expertise, vision and drive, added to an agreed upon work approach. An agreed upon work approach is something that can be fluid, and be adapted to the behavioural preferences of each team.
Authority can be granted, and can also be a fluid model that is not inhibited by structure, tenure and ego.
Imagine the leader of an organization selecting 8 people of varying expertise, tenure and skill to serve on a team. By virtue of one simple email, she selects one of the 8 people to be the leader of the team. To that leader she grants authority to make decisions.
She selected that one leader because he has knowledge of the subject, and he’s great at decision-making and execution. To the other 7 people on the team, she grants the authority to act in the interest of the leader.
She suspends their loyalties to their hierarchical boss until their loyalties to this particular team have been fulfilled.
By the way, two of the 7 people on the team have titles higher than the leader. But remember, they aren’t on the team because they have tenure. They are there because they can best contribute to the outputs of the team.
As the team comes together, they:
- set out some rules of engagement for working with one another,
- set an objective, and
- carry on the task of performing extraordinary acts for the organization.
More and more, teams are simply a collection of people from different departments, coming together under an assigned leader, to perform acts of greatness that will spin the organization towards the edge of innovation and beyond. When you subordinate hierarchy and focus on teaming, teams can really start to flourish.