Every Monday morning at my first job in a multinational brewery company, I would listen to what our c-level executives had to say about the strategic guidelines for the week ahead. This was especially interesting for my sales team as new incentives could be disclosed.
One aspect of these meetings which stood out was that the same video was played, at the exact moment, in all company offices with the same message. This intrigued me and made me reflect on the importance of communication and strategic alignment between top management and operations within organizations.
Organizational structures in the last decades have been highly influenced by the premises and settings that arose in the context of the industrial revolutions. The idea that intense supervision – which can be translated today to micromanaging – guarantees that the workers are doing their job, recalls that period and is still present today.
Nevertheless, with the intense flow of information, mainly due to the interconnectivity generated by the internet, and the fluidity of the markets, many organizations are adapting the organizational structure to respond more proactively to market changes.
Flatter organizational structures have been gaining momentum in different markets and are one of the primary management trends for this and the coming years. Companies like Google, Whole Foods, Spotify, and Southwest Airlines are some of the most well-known organizations, from different sectors, that have adapted to more autonomous and less hierarchical structures and are benefiting from some of the following management paradigm shifts:
- From top-down decisions to the autonomy to make decisions where the work takes place
- From micromanaging to trust-based work
- From complete confidentiality of information to transparency
- From bosses to leaders
- From rigid organizations to flexible organizations willing to learn
Building and adapting an organization to this new and complex world requires leaders and managers to deeply reflect on the answer to this simple question: On what basis is my company designed? There are two main paths to this answer: It is built based on trust or mistrust.
Suppose you hire people based on the premise that they will do something wrong and are unreliable. In that case, it is wise to create layers of control, protocols, and information confidentiality to avoid potential risks. However, if you hire people believing that they are reasonable, reliable, share the same values, and can grow together with the company, why should we insist on fitting them into structures that do not match this assessment?
In practical terms, this conversation leads us to four primary practices that companies and leaders should look for and implement together if they want to be ready for what is coming ahead:
1. Alignment of vision and behavior
Knowing where you want to go and how you will get there are the essential elements of an aligned and focused team. Constantly communicating the desired vision and behaviors reinforces the desired culture.
2. Make resources available where they are needed
Resources (financial, human, etc.) must be available where they are required. For example, it doesn’t make sense to have a structure characterized as agile if there is no budget allocation for that structure and, when it is needed, there are several layers of approvals required before the money reaches the operation.
3. Increase responsibility at the bottom
Those who work directly in the field (the conversation with the customer; the negotiation with the supplier; etc.) have a much better context than those far away – the better the context, the greater the chances of good decision making. Increase autonomy and, in the same way, responsibility in the team at the end.
4. Create an environment with psychological safety
Gather leaders who are open and dare to embrace the mistake and learn from the process. Allow the people on the team to be themselves and create a culture of mutual respect.
Like many other topics in management, this reflection and adaptation are much easier in theory than in practice. This challenge, however, has already proven to be more than valuable for organizations that implement such changes with courage. The kick-off is a leadership capable of resigning responsibility for results with pre-defined methods to a leadership style that provides freedom over the means and allows the team to take responsibility for its ends. With that said, trust, and therefore the answer to the question of whether not your organization is built on trust or mistrust is a crucial element.