Leaders exist; therefore, hierarchy exists. A flat organization is not truly flat, it is made of many leaders. Those leaders have the responsibility to train others to replace them. The company has the responsibility to help those leaders be successful and be diligent on keeping things safe.A flat organization is not truly flat, it is made of many leaders. Click To Tweet
Leaders are Essential
‘The Harvard Business Review’ has the article: Hierarchy is Overrated. This article paints a very favorable view point of flat hierarchy, but does not address the need for leadership at all. People will become leaders. This is an essential and natural process.
However, much of what needs to be accomplished by leaders, functioning in a flat hierarchy, is not natural. One of the main responsibilities of these leaders, is to move to stop being a leader, the sooner the better.
The way a leader stops being a leader is to train and inspire. Say that someone feels passionate about team building. They take up the reins, figure out ways to start building team communication and unity. They start the ball rolling. Now they need to look for someone else who cares about team building. They will collaborate, train, and inspire them to both take over and train someone else.
There are a host of potential problems. Everything from dissatisfied employees to locus of control. Most problems will stem from one of these three root causes:
- Denying the existence of leaders
- Team not trained in essential leadership skills
- Organization not really being flat
Leadership needs to be recognized, and its existence acknowledged. This allows an organization to better define how leaders behave and what it means to be passionate about some aspect of the organization. Don’t deny them, embrace them, try to understand them.
Everyone Trained as a leader
Train everyone to be leader. This is a lot of work, but it pays off as people can step up and handle issues and opportunities that they feel passionate about. Leadership can be more easily distributed and handed off from one leader to another. Everyone is capable in guiding and supporting leaders as they venture into new ideas and interests.
Here are a few sources I recommend:
- Simon Sinek’s ‘Leaders Eat Last’
- Amy Edmondson’s TEDx talk on Psychological Safety
- David Marquet’s ‘Turn the Ship Around’.
- Sharon Bowman’s ‘Training from the Back of the Room’
- Daniel Pink’s ‘Drive: The Truth About What Motivates Us’
A Flat Organization
Having an organization that has a distributed hierarchy can be challenging. The leadership, the people with the titles, needs to support it. They must trust people to do the job, and enable everyone to be trained. The highest paid people in the room have the greatest potential to do harm with the simplest word.
So, there is a need to prevent their hidden biases from polluting down into an unintentional hierarchy with certain people being ‘more equal’ than others. This can be done by really paying attention to building a safe environment. By encouraging those beneath them, in title at least, to contradict them and actively stepping back, these biases become smaller.
Giving up Control
The goal of every leader, should be, to eventually not be the leader. Each person should be looking at passing the torch, and ensuring multiple people can replace them. If this is not done they become the bottle neck and get in the way of success. The idea is that everyone can take a vacation and nothing stops working.
Each leader finds someone else who is passionate about the task at hand. They share responsibility, and train as needed. Eventually they will stand back and give their protégé or partner a chance to run things.
A truly flat hierarchy does not exist. This is a good thing. What real world flat hierarchies enable is everyone with the inclination can be a leader. There are difficulties which can be overcome with hard work and trust. It is rewarding to work in one of these organizations and they can be more effective if you acknowledge the existence of leadership, train for it, and upper management supports it.