Many teams are finding that traditional hierarchies at work are counterproductive. In lean teams this is especially true. The focus on productivity and output that lean teams have, mean that each person’s work directly impacts the customer, leaving no place for someone who assigns tasks. Jason Fried describes his team at 37signals explaining, “even as we’ve grown, we’ve remained a lean organization. We do not have room for people who don’t do the actual work”.
With more and more teams seeing the advantages of running a lean team, the temptation to switch to a flat structure can be strong. But managing a successful team in a flat organization is no easy task. With terms like manager, title, department dominating the workplace, it can be difficult to take an alternative approach to teamwork.
Before you decide to take a flat approach to how you organize your team, it may help to consider the key attributes that successful flat teams have. Many of these teams have similarities that have lead to their success, including:
- Everyone is on the same page: When there are clear expectations of how success is measured and rewarded, employees always know where they stand. The flat structure allows for increased visibility, so the responsibilities of everyone on the team are clearly communicated.
- Coaches instead of Managers: At 37signals, the role of team lead is regularly rotated. Jason explains that this frees his team “from the often toxic labor-versus-management dynamic, in which neither party truly understands what it’s like to be on the other side”. This ability to empathize with teammates creates an open environment rooted in trust. And since theres no room for someone to simply measure or manage, feedback is given in the interest of coaching.
- A New Approach to Recogniton: Successful teams know that promotions and pay increases are not what their teams are after. Recognizing achievements outside of vertical promotions is key. This includes publicly calling attention to good work, and making it a habit to say “thanks” frequently.
- Engagement Means Results: When teams are focused on fine tuning their craft, rather than being measured by a boss – everyone is engaged. Engagement is the key to driving results in any team, which are the main focus of any lean company.
Jason’s choice to run his team in a flat structure is based firmly in the belief that each member of their team has the ability to be a master craftsman – a measure of success that involves the mastery of that particular skill, not the management of it. But organizational structure isn’t that only way to achieve that goal. To learn more about how mastery, autonomy and purpose can help motivate your team check out our upcoming leadership webinar with motivation expert Dan Pink.