What the flat structure approach to business processes failed

david taylor

Inside Track

One of the big fads of the last 10 years was the so called "flat structures". Business process...

david taylor

Inside Track

One of the big fads of the last 10 years was the so called "flat structures". Business process re-engineering combined with the age of empowerment to wipe out organisational hierarchy forever, streamlining the decision-making and communication processes to ensure faster, flexible and more focused action and results.

If only! The reality delivered something rather different. Indeed, our attempts to achieve democracy and more power to our people by erasing reporting lines, has left a legacy of issues. Among them:

  • Large numbers of people reporting to one person

  • Confusion over who owns what

  • An increase in dotted line reporting - resulting in unclear accountability (an IT leader I know calls this "dotty line" reporting, which says it all)

  • Many IT departments, typically one providing central services and others within "business" areas

  • Muddled succession planning.

    Otherwise, eradicating reporting lines was an outstanding success!

    These results have left many companies with literally the wrong shape to face and embrace the new business age upon us. The fast-moving, opportunity-laden and exciting new world of change - the Internet and e-business - calls for clear ownership, leadership at every level and a culture of action and innovation.

    What can you do to ensure your team, department and company catch up and overtake present and future needs?

  • Become a true leader, where job titles and structures matter less than your personal style, attitude and actions. Key test, if you were stripped of all of your trappings of status, would you still get the best from your people?

  • Turn your IT department upside down by reporting to all in it - your prime role being to bring out the best in them.

  • Ensure clear ownership and accountability - regardless of who reports to whom.

  • Where you have dual reporting, only one person should be responsible for leadership and direction and one for work accountability.

  • All of your processes and procedures should be centred on your customer and must allow for ideas to thrive.

    Lines drawn on pieces of paper, job titles and hierarchies are an integral part of any organisation - large or small.

    If we focus on and try to erase them on their own, without replacing them with a new culture of leadership, they will simply come back again. People need the security that such structures bring.

    However, it is the mindset that is critical. Regardless of whether you have 14 levels or one, make sure you have in place true empowerment - where people know what they are there for, and are able to make decisions accordingly.

    Then you will be moving forward, driven by a rediscovered community based on being human, as opposed to just drawing straight lines - dotted or otherwise.

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