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Organizational change:
flatten the hierarchy

A lot of curveballs have been thrown at us in the last couple of years. That goes for the corporate world as well as privately. As an organization, how do you keep up with these shifts, and when is a big organizational change the way forward?

Organizational change, keep it up

Organizational change is the structured approach to transitioning organizations from their current state to a desired future state. The transition can be anywhere: strategy, policies, procedures, company culture, or structure. In fact, a shift in one area often means other parts of the company change as well.

Organizations are always moving. They’re like an organism. A company that gets stuck in its ways may quickly find itself falling behind. Often, these changes happen very organically. But occasionally, a big organizational change is necessary. To keep up with changes in the market, or simply to grow.

Organizational change:
big or small

There are many ways an organization can change, but it boils down to two kinds.

Adaptive (small) changes

Adaptive changes refer to the modifications that an organization makes in response to changes in the external environment. Basically, these are small tweaks to keep up with what’s happening around you.

These changes are typically incremental and reactive, but necessary.

For instance, DuPont, a large chemical company, started as a gunpowder manufacturer but adapted its operations over time to become a leader in the chemical industry.

Transformational (big) changes

These involve a fundamental shift in the organization’s mission, strategy, or structure. These changes are big. They can change what the organization does, how it does it, or why it does it. They’re often proactive and often stem from visionary leadership aiming to take the organization to new heights.

An example of transformational change is the pivot of YouTube from a dating service to a video-sharing platform. Originally, it was meant to upload videos to introduce yourself to a potential partner. Now, well, you know. This was much more than just an adjustment to existing operations. It was a complete transformation of the company’s business model and strategic direction.

Transformational changes are more complex and riskier than adaptive changes, but they can also yield more benefits. They require a comprehensive approach and a company-wide commitment to cultural change.

Organizational change: a flatter structure

In today’s world, quite a few organizations are making a transformational change to a structure with less hierarchy. This is because they know that traditional hierarchies sometimes hinder innovation and productivity. A flat (or flatter) structure, on the other hand, fosters a more collaborative and engaging environment.

Less hierarchical structures move away from a top-down approach to a more horizontal one. This means decision-making power is distributed more evenly across the organization. It encourages employees at all levels to contribute ideas, creating a culture of innovation and shared ownership.

Always be ready for change

We are now talking about a big organizational change as a one-time event. Or maybe over a certain period. But some business leaders will argue that it’s a good idea to always be ready for change. To be adaptable.

Since COVID, a lot of organizations have been in a permanent state of change. First lockdowns, then the Great Resignation, and now inflation. And who knows what’s next? There’s an ongoing state of crisis management. However, crisis management is only a short-term solution. Even though many organizations come out of a crisis stronger, it puts a lot of pressure on the teams. You don’t want to be in a permanent state of panic. Yet, crises are sometimes unavoidable, and you don’t always see them coming. So an organization needs to be adaptable.

A good way to become adaptable is by distributing the decision-making power. Top-down hierarchy takes time and lacks transparency. It always requires management to take action. You could say hierarchies were built for stable markets, like in the old days. But with the lightning-fast developments and innovations around us, it no longer suffices. By having teams take ownership of their work, they are much more nimble and lightweight. They can respond quicker because there is no bureaucracy. If the goals are clear, teams (in a well-built structure) can figure out HOW to achieve them. And how to adapt strategy, if that’s necessary. There needs to be a strong basis of trust to be able to do this. In fact, the organization needs to be built up around this, possibly through a restructuring or organizational change.

The future of work
how we'd like it

At Corporate Rebels, we do believe that hierarchical structures are outdated. They don’t fit our current professional landscape anymore. We see organizational changes as a way to challenge the status quo and create workplaces that are not just productive, but also enjoyable. By reducing hierarchy, organizations become more agile, innovative, and responsive to change. Employee engagement goes up heaps, which is good for everyone.

We try to help! With our global platform that shares insights and inspiration from pioneers committed to transforming the way we work. Our mission is to make work more fun and effective. We do this by challenging the status quo and looking into new ways of working.

Our journey began when we decided to quit our frustrating corporate jobs and set out on a mission to visit the world’s most inspiring organizations. From these visits, we’ve identified eight key trends that these pioneering organizations have in common.

Want to learn more about organizational change?

We share our insights through our blog, where we dive into topics like autonomy, networks of teams, organizational change, and more.

We also offer a range of courses through the Corporate Rebels Academy. These courses are designed to provide practical, meaningful advice to change the way you work. Whether you’re interested in refining your operating rhythm, distributing work into autonomous roles, or boosting psychological safety, our courses help you on your way.

So whether you’re a founder, a transformation leader, a changemaker, or a rebel at heart, we invite you to join us. Let’s make work more fun together.

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