Digital transformation and its impact on the new world of work are slowly but surely changing existing hierarchical structures in companies. This is because greater flexibility and agility are often at odds with classic organizational models and traditional leadership behavior.
If everyone is connected and flexible, for supervisors this doesn’t mean less, but rather a different kind of leadership. And for all employees, it means more independent responsibility.
Project-based organization instead of hierarchies
In the future world of work, rigid office hours, mandatory presence at the workplace and a huge company headquarters are playing less and less of a role. Instead, when combined with the corresponding IT infrastructure, laptops and smartphones are facilitating flexible working – whether individually for each employee or for teams – across disciplines, departmental boundaries and national borders.
This structural flexibility allows companies to respond better to changes in the environment and address instable market dynamics earlier. This will lead to creative ideas, more innovations and accelerated processes. However, the increasing trend towards project-based organizations also means that many management tasks are being delegated to these flexible teams. Tasks that were previously managed centrally are disappearing. And along with them, so are the familiar formal hierarchies.
“The overall aim is responsibility, not consensus. Managers show respect and appreciation. Today’s supervisors set an example of how to embrace change, instruct on how to deal with uncertainty, and empower their teams or employees to take independent responsibility.”
Does a flatter hierarchy therefore imply less leadership (work) for supervisors? In my opinion, definitely not! Leadership remains important, especially in the digital age. It simply needs to be reshaped.
In particular, if employees work across sites and in networks with other colleagues, they need to receive feedback about their work. And the exchange of information beyond actual work-related matters must also be ensured if there is no longer “cake in the break room”. Supervisors must thus create the appropriate framework conditions.
The first step is finding technical solutions such as a functioning project management application. Even more important are the conditions that concern the organization and the social glue within teams. Team agreements are a good example. These should create a common understanding among team members regarding responsibilities and freedoms, while also containing rules on how to organize deputization rules or decide on when employees must be present at the workplace.
Within this framework, supervisors have the task of acting appropriately and leading by example. In doing so, increasing trust replaces control. No more interfering in daily business. Instead, supervisors delegate, coordinate and motivate their teams.
This is the only way to ensure good collaboration. This is because the heads of project teams have no formal authority over their team members. Like the captain of a football team, they depend on everyone’s willingness to work together and that they are interested in seeing the team perform well.
The overall aim is responsibility, not consensus. Managers show respect and appreciation. Today’s supervisors set an example of how to embrace change, instruct on how to deal with uncertainty, and empower their teams or employees to take independent responsibility.
Strong instincts are important
What impact does this increase in responsibility have on employees? More responsibility doesn’t just mean more self-discipline. It also means constantly reassessing situations using unbiased processes, as well as taking responsibility for decisions that have been made. Of course, this isn’t for everyone. While one person may enjoy such a role, it might put pressure on someone else, who until now has been used to simply implementing decisions made by others. That is why supervisors need to have a keen sense of how to meet the individual needs of their employees in this regard, and how they can help them to work independently.
If our leadership culture succeeds in creating and supporting responsibility, then we will move a big step forward in the new world of work and leverage its potential.