How to Transition from a Hierarchy to Team Based Approach

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 8, 2019

I thought the recently published Deloitte Trends Report on Organizational Performance was spot on.

“Hierarchies are being displaced by teams at organizations across industries and geographies” with 96% indicating that some (65%), most (25%), or almost all (8%) of the work is done in teams.

Unfortunately, “65 percent of this year’s survey respondents viewed the shift from “functional hierarchy to team-centric and network-based organizational models” as important or very important—but only seven percent of respondents felt very ready to execute this shift, and only six percent rated themselves very effective at managing cross-functional teams.”

Why is that?  For a hundred years, we have operated under the simple rules of a hierarchical organization.

  1. Leader has information and makes the decisions.
  2. Tells the direct reports what to do.
  3. They do it and tell the boss.

It’s an elegant model when the task is defined and contained and when the information is not accessible to all.  But we don’t work in that kind of world anymore.  We live in a VUCA world where there are many moving parts and where information, if available, is available and accessible to all.

The problem is that it is easier to work in a hierarchical mode and much more complex to operate in teams.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

The report cites several recommendations to embed a team based approach to work:

  • “The ecosystem. Define purpose-driven teams in the context of the missions they serve within the organization and externally relative to customers, partners, and society at large.
  • The organization. Design ‘front-led’ networks of teams that promote multidisciplinary collaboration and empowered decision-making.
  • The team. Build teams that demonstrate new agile and collaborative ways of working.
  • The leader. Select and develop team leaders who have a growth mindset that creates the conditions for teams to be iterative, open, inclusive, and effective.
  • The individual. Challenge conventional talent management interventions, from succession and performance management, to rewards and learning, to enable individuals to change their focus from ‘climbing the ladder’ to growing from experience to experience.”

The report cites a case study where the leadership team did an evaluation of their formal and informal hierarchical and teaming behaviors.  “By identifying the gaps, the organizations were able to make adjustments in team design based on performance and effectiveness data.”

You, too, can do an “armchair assessment” (a much less rigorous approach!) of your team’s work.  Bring together your team and identify the gaps between where your team is now and how y’all would like to operate.  Then, as a team, design a plan to close that gap, using the Deloitte recommendations to generate discussion and ideas.  I find that people are much more committed to that which they have created.

I know it is easier said than done.  But you’ve got to start somewhere because teams and team work are not going away.


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Panel Discussion Tip #185 with Jeffrey Hayzlett: Finishing Panel Discussions


For more resources on moderating panel discussions, visit the Knowledge Vault. To have Kristin moderate your next panel, visit the Powerful Panels official website.

Photo by Xiang Hu on Unsplash


Posted in teamwork on by Kristin Arnold.

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