Forget status symbols and focus on trust and support to build a non-hierarchical workplace culture, says Ceri Henfrey.
01 April 2019 | Ceri Henfrey
A friend of mine used to work for a company with an 'executive' floor - an entire walnut-clad, plush-carpeted area reserved for the most senior staff. It left her and her colleagues in no doubt about who the 'important' people were.
It also created a clear divide with an unapproachable senior leadership team that was out of touch with the rest of the business.
This was commonplace back then, with higher-ranking staff receiving top-spec computers or phones, and separate dining areas. These status symbols seem bizarre to most of us now, but trying to create a non-hierarchical structure can still feel like a big step.
Here are some ways to get started on the process.
1 Ensure that managers 'look' the same
Organisational structure should resemble an inverted pyramid, with support teams and managers enabling staff to do their job. We don't have tiers of managers or anybody 'walking the floor'.
Instead, we have about 30 team leaders who spend 85 per cent of their time doing the same job as our receptionists, answering calls and live chats, with the remainder spent ensuring their team is happy. This means they act as role models to their teams, but also has the advantage of receptionists knowing their manager understands their role.
An internal litmus test for non-hierarchical leadership is whether you can spot who is 'management'. If you can't, you're doing it right.
2 Everyone's hands should get dirty
To make sure the strategy works, create and perpetuate a culture in which 'small business mentality' reigns supreme and everyone wants to get their hands dirty. This way everything from brainstorming new products to having lunch can become chances to collaborate.
3 Neutralise the office environment
Create social spaces that everyone can use. Get rid of directors' entrances or reserved parking spaces. The workplace should be democratic. For instance, our receptionists have the best views with everyone sat in a honeycomb structure that creates an open atmosphere.
We designed a new HQ in 2015, based on staff suggestions. The result is a workplace that has seen a 27 per cent and 26 per cent fall in sickness absence rates and staff turnover respectively, both of which were already well below the UK average. Wherever possible, include what staff want in the design and maintenance of the workplace.
4 Maintain the culture
Avoid a cascade structure of communications. Instead, communicate news with everyone at the same time.
One of the best tools we've found to do this is Workplace by Facebook. It provides us with an instant way to chat with employees, immediately gauges feedback and enables staff to connect easily with each other at every level.
It is also wise to involve the entire team in decision-making and hold informal discussions every few weeks - we call ours 'PowWows'.
These help to hone in on one particular topic - for example, IT systems or employee benefits. They work best by inviting a variety of people from across the company to share their thoughts and suggestions in an open forum.
5 Recruit wisely
Recruitment is also a key to maintaining a non-hierarchical culture. Make sure that job applicants know that being concerned about status is unlikely to get them the post.
When new starters join the team, highlight anything in the first few weeks that doesn't feel like it fits with your prevailing non-hierarchical culture.
Deal with these issues and any meetings, ideas sessions and catch-ups in social spaces, breakout areas or even a pub rather than in meeting rooms.
Ensuring that these conditions are met will make staff feel more engaged and empowered and a key part of the organisation's success.
Ceri Henfrey is head of operations at outsourced communications provider Moneypenny