Five ways to flatten organisational structures

CHIEF OF STAFF FIVE: A flatter organisational structure, with fewer levels of heirachy, is more likely to attract and retain employees.

When given autonomy in their tasks and mission, employees are often more motivated to make their mark in the organisation and develop teamwork skills.

This structure allows for more ideas to be surfaced to the higher ups and reduces bureaucracy by eliminating middle management roles, which means projects will progress faster and operating costs will also improve.

However, flat organisational structures are generally better for less mature businesses, but there are still plenty of ways to flatten the organisational structure to benefit larger organisations in this increasingly agile business landscape.

1. Decide which areas can benefit from smaller, agile units

Some functions must remain structured and relatively rigid to maintain some level of accountability and optimisation of assets. However, teams such as IT and marketing may benefit from a transition into smaller, more autonomous units.

Smaller teams are more agile and are empowered to innovate on the fly. In a best-case scenario, they may even offer unconventional solutions that cut hours and cost.

Creative departments, departments that rapidly evolve or those that benefit from innovative, problem-solving will also flourish under flatter structures.

2. Effective leadership and communication

Smaller, agile units are great for innovation, but they run a risk of getting stuck in their own silo of ideas that don’t gel with other teams or work without a real plan or accountability. To implement a more successful flattened structure, leadership is immensely important.

While teams should be given the power to make decisions, it’s still important that leaders communicate what the organisation expects of them. Leaders must communicate goals and each individual objective clearly so that the team knows what the organisation expects of them.

The rest is about showcasing expected behaviour, context setting and encouraging experimentation. The goal is to build a culture that blends the best of structure and freedom. It’s a balancing act of letting go of control, but not all of it.

3. Implement an open door policy

A more egalitarian structure requires executives to open their doors to employees from all levels of the organisation. Employees must be confident that they have a direct line for questions, concerns or ideas they may have, and they must feel comfortable doing so.

Some considerations for an effective open door policy include setting open door hours to prevent a decline in the executive’s productivity.

Another important consideration is ensuring that the direct manager is taken into consideration, either through a three-way discussion, checking whether the employee has raised their concern with their direct manager and whether they have brought HR into the equation.

4. Offer training and resources

Flattening an organisational structure requires proper training to suit the circumstances. Steer clear of traditional seminar-style training. Instead, zero in on the most important concepts to communicate to employees such as taking individual experience into consideration.

Modular training methods are ideal in this situation, as multiple micro learning modules allow higher ups to customise a personalised training program that suits each individual or team’s needs.

Besides training, employees also need access to resources that will help them find answers if challenges arise. Since flatter organisation structures require employees to work with fewer layers of management, it’s important that they are given access to resources they might need.

A HR information system (HRIS) software is a good way to make this knowledge accessible when employees need it.

5. Career pathing and handover

An often overlooked aspect of flat organisational structures is the employee’s career path. In such a structure, employees may see less opportunity to progress in the company. Since career growth is pertinent for any employee, it’s important to think of ways for them to accomplish this even within a flatter organisational structure.

Poorly implemented flat organisations may also lead to managers preventing their employees from rising up the ranks if they are deemed too valuable, which is counterproductive for the employees and may lead to higher turnover.

Therefore, mechanisms for team members to catalogue knowledge throughout their tenure is crucial. Rather than a large handover at the end of their time in the team, systems must be put in place for them to add continuously to a library of knowledge that can be shared throughout the team.

This both gives managers more peace of mind to let go of high value employees and gives other team members more resources that they would otherwise not have access to.

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