Can you have both a hierarchical and a flat organizational structure?

Can you have both a hierarchical and a flat organizational structure, or does one preclude the existence of the other? Some of the feedback I have received from staff has pointed out that while I have talked about flattening the organization there are still many decisions that are decided by the normal hierarchical model and processes.

I am going to give you my opinion on this ambiguity, and hopefully clarify some of my ideas and philosophy on this topic. There is a Hierarchical model with a capital “H” and the hierarchical model with a lowercase “h”.

The “H” model is where all decisions come down from the top of the organization and the leadership decides the strategic direction. Your role within the organization is tightly defined and controlled. The expectation is that you will perform your tasks in the most efficient manner and if changes are needed then it will be directed by management. This is a model that relies on compliance and information is given by decree. Feedback from employees is not expected, neither is it sought after by management. There are no structures put in place to give employees a voice or for them to actively participate or react to some of the decisions made by management. This model was institutionalized into our culture through the assembly line, where people and parts were interchangeable and manufacturing could be controlled. This structure does not permit any form of flattening and there are no frameworks created for the average employee to collaborate with the management layer. The employee is considered to be a cog in the larger organizational machine. In my opinion, this model is prejudicial, and it assumes that those in management are smarter and better educated and should, by their position alone, know what is best for the organization.

The “h’ hierarchical model I think more of as a network (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graph_theory).

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The circles are nodes and the lines are are the links that form the relationship between the nodes.  In this case the nodes represent people. The links between the nodes represent the relationships that we have between each other. The relationships become stronger the more we communicate and trust each other. Below is one way we can structure people (nodes)  and relationships (links) and   it looks very much like a traditional organization chart.

 

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Unlike the “H” model which is static,slow to change and deal with complexity, and cannot be flattened, this model can change in a number of dynamic ways. This flexibility allows the organization to adaptto meet our community’s needs.

The cabinet (soon to be renamed) and I constantly look for ways to flatten the organization and to give staff as much of the decision making authority as possible without abdicating our responsibility.

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How does this happen in the day to day work at JCL? The cabinet and I are invested in understanding your thoughts, ideas and insight. We constantly look for ways to create committees, teams, hold summits and visit with staff over breakfasts and lunches.

This is why we have created frameworks like SOPPADAS, charters, summits and committees. It allows portions of the organization to reconfigure themselves in ways to best solve an issue. This is how the cabinet and I attempt to find ways to flatten the organization. The organization cannot be completely flattened, but we want to create as many opportunities as possible were we can all get to step away from the traditional hierarchical structure.

When we do this it is my opinion that we become agile, innovative  and everyone finds their work rewarding and fulfilling

These sub-networks structure shapes at the end of the day always revert back to the shape of the hierarchy and are never entirely independent. This is just the nature of work at this time in our collective history. I am committed to making the hierarchy with an “h” and to flattening the organization whenever possible.