Breaking barriers: improving a hierarchical management structure

The breaking barriers series focuses on ways to ready your company for successful innovation processes and culture. This week, we're focussing on the problems associated with a hierarchical management structure and how to fix them.

Jonny Fisher
by Jonny Fisher
hierarchical management

On the 11th of March 2011, emergency power at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant went down, resulting in the meltdown of three separate nuclear reactors. Following the incident, a public inquiry declared that the meltdowns could, in fact, have been avoided, but that huge mistakes were made by leadership-level team members with too little information and not enough specialist knowledge on the subject.

The blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of the local government culture; “our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our group-ism; and our insularity”. Had leaders had the wisdom to listen to advice and delegate decision making to subordinates, the crisis could categorically have been avoided.

Herein lies the danger of fiercely hierarchical management styles. Try as they might, no single individual can have the knowledge and skills needed to solve every problem in a company. When it comes to innovation, diversity of perspective, knowledge and personality is crucial to achieving the best outcome. That’s why, this week, we’re taking a look at some ways you can improve your company culture to enable the best ideas to rise to the surface, wherever they might come from.

Create a no-door policy

Individual offices are fantastic ways to separate your leadership-level team members from those lower down the hierarchy. They make managers more difficult to approach and ideas that much scarier to pitch. Think carefully before you separate your department leaders away in their own spaces.

Use an anonymous idea generation platform

If you want the best ideas to float to the surface in your company, it’s essential that each of them is assessed on their own merit. That means ensuring they aren’t pre-judged based on where, or who, they come from. Just because an idea for a marketing campaign comes from the office manager doesn’t mean it can’t be great. Idea Drop’s ‘cloak’ option lets you hide your identity from the rest of the network so that nobody knows where your ideas came from. This helps make sure they are judged on their own merit instead of your rank or status.

Identify decision-makers on a per-project basis

The reality is that innovative projects sometimes fail. Team members are acutely aware of this, and a great way to avoid blame is to ensure that decisions are “signed off” with the decision maker above before they’re put into action. This can lead to the pool of decision makers widening unnecessarily, costing you time, focus and morale. Instead, try to identify the final decision maker in each project individually. This will afford the person with the deepest project knowledge the power to act.

Develop trust and transparency

Strong relationship building is the key to making a flat management system work. When you’re handing off the decision-making power to others, you need to trust that they’ll make the right ones in the long run. A good way to enable this is to ensure that your team members personal goals are aligned with your business objectives. Transparency in the overall vision of your organisation, a strong incentive system and quality briefing procedures can help you feel comfortable handing over the reigns to others.

If you manage to keep all these elements in place, you should find yourself with an environment ready to let innovation culture flourish. To learn more about overcoming barriers to innovation, drop us a line using the chat box below. We’re always excited to help.

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