I heard recently that the hierarchical structure in place in most corporations is a post-war phenomenon. Organization design immediately after World War II tended to follow a highly militaristic, tiered model, which has largely remained in place throughout the 20th century. Now, more than 50 years later, these structures are breaking down. Progressive organizations are rethinking their formal org structures and many executives are reconsidering how they lead their teams.
Take companies like Valve Software, the games company that quite famously eliminated managers and flattened their organization. Or Zappos, the online shoe company, which similarly eliminated job titles and their management structure. Even in organizations that are not taking such extreme measures, successful leaders are adopting communication approaches that are far less one-way, top-down and dictatorial.
What is causing this shift? Technology is one major driving force in this change. In their personal lives, people are using tools like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay in touch with family and far-away friends – and they see benefits from this social connection. They want this same level of collaboration and communication- or conversation – with their employers and leaders, as well as the companies they purchase from, invest in and frequent. Technology also gives us more flexibility in where and how we work – people are no longer tethered to desks or forced to travel to the office for every meeting. This enables leaders to extend their reach – to directly engage with customers, their broader community and new parts of the organization.
This more collaborative style of leadership brings benefits around innovation, productivity and engagement, but leaders need coaching and support to develop their social skills and behaviours and to learn to connect in new ways. In other words, in order for companies to make this shift, they need truly social leaders at the helm.