Teamwork. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
We have all been in a team that just didn’t work. We have all dragged our feet to go to a meeting with classmates for a school project, or colleagues for a work project, only to realise once again that we’ll be doing all the work. And yet again, there’s so much work that needs to be done in a team.
I won’t go on discussing why teams are important because I believe by now we all know and appreciate their importance. What I would like to discuss is how teams evolve from a friendship, to a partnership; from having a glass of wine and discussing an intriguing idea, to actually waking up the next morning and start working together on its realisation.
After you have this first idea for your business, the next step should naturally be to find the people who will work with you on that. You want people to share your dream, to put their whole into it. Ideally, at this stage you don’t care about who’s the boss. This is where you need a flat structure in your team. Everybody takes ownership of their project, their area, and work tirelessly in making it happen so that all the pieces of your business puzzle match up and give life to your business.
At this very first stage, is where most of the millennials feel comfortable operating. In a flat structure, leadership comes from the middle, not from the top. Millennials have realised that they can’t be experts on everything so they lead their teams from the middle, allowing their people to shine and realise their potential in their areas of expertise.
To put it in simple terms, if you want to create an e-shop, when it comes to your website development, as a millennial you’ll sit back and let your IT person do their job, guide the company. You’ll trust them to take ownership and work with you, not for you. And this will give them the motivation to be the best they can be.
Of course, a flat structure is not always appropriate. What happens when your small start-up develops in a big company with hundreds of employees? How do you give ownership to all of them?
The trick here is to always remember to lead from the middle. You have to recognise people’s expertise and allow them to develop their ideas. In larger organisations, where flat structures seize to work, you can turn to a flatarchy. A flatarchy is basically your flat organisation with inter-team hierarchy. Hierarchy not as we used to know it, but in a whole new context. In a flatarchy, you have a network of teams working together; a network that provides a higher degree of empowerment, communication, self-leadership, and information flow.
Why move to a flatarchy instead of a traditional hierarchy? Because in a flatarchy the basic concept is that everyone has the same responsibilities towards the company. Everyone takes ownership of their job and is proud for what they bring forward. On the other hand, a traditional hierarchy can be divisive, with people reacting strongly to the notion of having a “boss”, someone responsible for you and your actions. In flatarchy, you work with teams; collaboration is key. And this helps the company to tap into the human strengths of communication since people simply know each other better.
All this may sound weird to the older generations who always knew who their boss was, but it’s exactly what millennials are asking for. We want to be our own boss but at the same time be part of something bigger, offer our skills for something bigger. And this is why flat structures and flatarchies work for us.
Teams are important. Organising your team is even more important. But leading your team from the middle, making room in this way for self-leadership and breathing space. Knowing your people’s strengths and weaknesses, and allowing them to be their self, their true self, and take ownership of their work, that’s what will make your company different. That’s what will attract the talent you need to grow and develop.
That’s why your start-up will surely need a whole HR department.