Leadership in a flat structure

The world is flat – Leadership in a flat structure

Collaborative working, agile decision-making, clear communication frameworks, and innovation through continuous improvements.

Leadership in a flat structureFor some time now, the predominant trend in the businesses we work with has been towards flat and lean structures. Many owners want to build on the energy of the early days in a start-up with everyone working together. All of the workspaces we visit are open plan and employees have direct access to those they need to collaborate with at all levels in the business. Their role in the business is based on capability, initiative, ability to deliver and work with the team. In these businesses leadership is about everyone assuming accountability.

Going ‘flat’ is not the easy option, the trend toward flat businesses poses its own challenges – and capability and competence in leaders can be a significant gap. As the traditional route of rising through layers of management disappears, a new style of leadership is emerging where each employee takes personal responsibility for their accountabilities and role in the team.

As a rule leadership competence is usually acquired by observing others and by trial-and-error. In flat organisations, when project leads are always shifting, there isn’t always a clear model. What can business do to develop great future leaders while maintaining the benefits of a flat structure? How can the development of leaders be supported as growing businesses change and grow? How can they keep the flexibility and freshness of the early stages of start-up while also finding consistency and stability in order to grow a sustainable business? There isn’t a single answer; innovation can come from any type of structure, hierarchical or flat. However, it is clear strong leadership is key in bringing creative ideas to life.

Here are some ideas to think about when creating your flatter business structure:-

  • Recruit for the core competencies important for your business.

Understand the core behaviours you need to drive your business growth and recruit against these. Skills and experience will always be essential, but in a flat structure they’re not enough. The value of positive, responsible, and accountable team members who take action cannot be overestimated.

  • Reward leadership. 

Be clear about what leadership means within your business, then reward it. In a flat structure, leadership means supporting your own growth, together with that of the business and others. It also means creating learning opportunities, taking risks, leading to new situations and stepping outside your comfort zone to learn new skills.

  • Embed coaching. 

Address the gaps in leadership by, building learning and coaching programs with clear outcomes and a positive impact on your business performance. Leaders who coach can support the onboarding of your new starters and grow the capabilities of others.

  • Establish communication frameworks. 

The breakdown in the flow of information, especially in businesses where collaboration and project work is at their core can pose big challenges. How teams come together on a project is vital. Your frameworks can be digital, or simple processes. Appointing a communication guardian can make sure projects are kept on track project.

  • Be clear on your business values and put them to work.

Ensure your business rewards self-awareness and emotional intelligence to create a culture of leadership throughout your business.

Take a look at our case studies to gain an insight into how this can work in practice and sign up to our newsletter if you want to receive updates in the new year as we create more case studies.



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I would work with Jo again in a heartbeat.
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