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The Flip Side of Disruptive Change for Companies

One thing is certain. The pandemic in more ways than one was a catalyst for the future of work – in tandem with honing digital skills and an improved infrastructure, we saw a change in corporate culture and new leadership skills.

As we move towards a post pandemic era and employees return to the office and navigate hybrid work environments, companies need to look at their overall leadership and management structure. It is clear a management system based on the ‘old rules’ – the traditional pyramid structures whereby businesses operated using a top-down, hierarchal structure will no longer be effective. Taking its place needs to be a management model that is flexible, responsive, built around four interrelated trends ; more connection, unprecedented automation, lower transaction costs and demographic shifts.

The pandemic has enabled and created opportunities for companies to reset, rethink and reinvent how they operate. It’s no longer a case of leaders rising to the top but leadership spreading across an organisation so fewer layers of management and greater reliance on the use of cross-functional teams. This new collaborative culture represents the nature of leadership in a flat organisation.

A flat organisation refers to an organisation structure with few or no levels of management between management and staff level employees. The flat organisation supervises employees less while promoting their increased involvement in the decision-making process so an even playing field which allows organisations to leverage employee talents, passions and expertise to better apply these to business challenges.

Both types of organisational structures offer a number of advantages as well as possible disadvantages.

The benefits of a flatter structure are there for all to see;

  • It elevates the employees’ level of responsibility in the organisation

  • It removes excess layers of management and improves the coordination and speed of communication between employees

  • It elevates employee responsibility

  • It eliminates the salaries of middle management so reduces an organisation’s budget costs

  • It nurtures innovation – specialists can pursue passion projects that serve the organisation

There are disadvantages to a flat structure;

  • Employees often lack a specific boss to report to, which creates confusion and possible power struggles among management

  • Flat organisations tend to produce a lot of generalists but no specialists. The specific job function of employees may not be clear

  • A flat structure may limit long-term growth of an organisation, management may decide against new opportunities in an effort to maintain the structure

  • Larger organisations struggle to adapt the flat structure, unless the company divides into smaller, more manageable units.

So you may ask what are the ground rules going forward? Research shows us that companies must have very clearly defined missions, goals and growth plans to be successful with a flat structure in the long term. When that’s in place, experts say employees find their place, meaning and passion for the work. They feel motivated to pursue leadership and projects to further their career and the company. In other words retention and positive work culture run high, while costs run low.

One thing is certain. The pandemic in more ways than one was a catalyst for the future of work – in tandem with honing digital skills and an improved infrastructure, we saw a change in corporate culture and new leadership skills. Going back to the same old thing is a losing strategy. Leadership is now spreading across organisations. Companies rely more on collaboration, place a greater focus on empathy. As transformation and disruptions look set to become the new normal it is time to start reimagining management.