Podcast | Leading And Learning In Flat Organisations

November 24, 2022
June 26, 2023

Flat hierarchies, often celebrated because they’re great for employees. But what do they mean for leaders and L&D teams?

Ally Jones (Leadership Coach) and Chichi Eruchalu (Head of Leadership Development, Multiverse) are joined us live to answer that very question.

​From why leaders are people we want to follow and leadership is a behaviour, not a title, to how we build high-trust cultures and self-management – we tackled a rarely-covered part of the flat hierarchy conversation.

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Running order

0:00 Intro to Ally, Chichi and this conversation.
1:19 Leadership is a behaviour, not a title.
5:07 What flat hierarchies mean for L&D.
7:28 Build a culture of self-management and self-ownership.
12:30 The role of leaders in helping others self-manage.
23:28 Creating high-trust cultures.
28:50 How can we challenge each other constructively?
34:56 Test flatter hierarchies on a smaller scale.
38:14 Does challenging each other create more or less trust?
42:30 Work out how leadership is currently perceived.
45:35 Pay bands and progression.

Six lessons on leading and learning in flat hierarchies

1. Leadership is a behaviour, not a title

“Often, people think leadership is something that comes with a title… But there are a lot of people who are quietly leading, through the nature of how they carry themselves and the way they inspire people.” – Chichi Eruchalu.

People might do what you say because you’re a manager and if they don’t, they might lose their job.

But people follow you because you inspire, care about and develop them – that’s where true leadership lies.

2. If we’re all leading, we have to build self-management skills

“How aware am I of the impact my behaviours will have on those around me? How often and well do I build in self-reflection… and the final part is around self-regulation.” – Ally Jones.

If your calendar is back-to-back it can be hard to build in opportunities to ask how a conversation went or what we want to get out of this meeting in 10 minutes? But this self-reflection is invaluable in flatter organisations.

Self-regulation is about how well you respond to the environment around you, particularly when it’s difficult and stressful. If we can’t do these three things well, we can’t create the cultural norms for a great learning environment.

“To lead others, we have to lead ourselves well. What’s your operating system? How well do you know yourself and how you function?” – Chichi Eruchalu.

3. “Everywhere you go, you cast a leadership shadow. Is it a positive or negative shadow?” – Chichi Eruchalu.

When people interact with us, have we inspired them or drained them?

We’re a product of the leaders around us and, in a flatter hierarchy, we’re drawing from more people. BUT there is a shared responsibility for acting with our values and leadership expectations in mind.

4. People with leadership titles take on different roles in flatter hierarchies, such as:

  • Setting the expectation of what good looks like to avoid the pitfalls of assumption.
  • Providing clarity that if you try something and make a mistake, we’ve got your back – there’s space to try and fail.
  • Establishing the ultimate goal and giving someone the freedom to reach it in the way they think is best.

“When you’re really clear on the boundaries of how we do something, but we’re not prescriptive of the how, that’s really important, especially in fast-growing organisations.

“You want to be very clear around where we want to get to, but you allow individuals to go and do what they need to do. They can look to their peers and learn from each other… but as a leader, you’re not there dictating that you must do it this way.

“And I think you get more creativity and innovation that way.” – Chichi Eruchalu.

5. Flat hierarchies need a high-trust culture. So, how do we earn it?

“Do we build trust? It’s slightly assumptive that we have total control over that, whereas the reality of earning someone’s trust is that it’s a process and about demonstrating the right behaviours.” – Ally Jones.

Ally recommended a great framework that essentially explains how our levels of trustworthiness are equal to our levels of credibility.

  • Am I good at the things I claim to be good at?
  • Do I demonstrate reliability and deliver on promises?
  • Are people comfortable being vulnerable and intimate with me?

“That framework really does simplify what trust is about. When I say I’m going to do something, do I do it? That level of integrity seems so simple but is often disregarded.” – Chichi Eruchalu.

Learn about the Trust Framework here.

6. Test flatter structure on a smaller scale

Start small but think big has become a bit of a mantra on the show, but it’s really true here. You could try a flatter approach on a particular project and review how it went.

Chichi and Ally gave us some great advice on how you can do this today:

  • Be clear on the goal or what you want to achieve. What does success look like?
  • Provide clarity on everyone’s role at the very start.
  • Ensure everyone is aligned on the direction of travel.
  • Check-in and address when we’re not being accountable.
  • Remember that it doesn’t have to be permanent.

“Give things a go, fail fast, learn from the things that didn’t work and repeat the things that did.” – Ally Jones.