Kill the Hierarchy! - Increased Innovation

Transitioning People Through Constant Change

My last couple of posts (in the series “Kill the Hierarchy) I explored rapid and decentralised decision-making in a flatter organisational structure. In this post I want to discuss how moving hierarchical barriers opens the door to innovation.

For an organisation to survive and thrive in a world of constant and uncertain change, the organisation has to be one in which leadership is important, but MORE important is a collaborative workplace in which transparency and creative freedom reign over hierarchical boundaries. This enables innovation, creativity, experimentation, rapid decision-making, agility and employee ownership, engagement and influence. There is widespread autonomy and everyone leads.

No one ever did anything awesome or great just because they were told to!

The ‘Kill the Hierarchy’ model shown the diagram below, illustrates the changes needed to move to a flatter structure, and it is these changes that we shall be exploring in this series of posts.



Never has the need for innovation been more important than it is today.

An innovation blog at ImagineNation summed it up well:

“Organisations who see and act upon the opportunities and possibilities for change through innovation in the current volatile and uncertain, business environment will not only survive; they will successfully compete and even flourish in the face of the range of emerging adverse and fluctuating business and economic conditions.
They will use innovation as a strategic, systemic and technological lever for developing agile innovation cultures, accountable business management processes and global industry eco-systems.
Doing this will ensure that their people develop the creative confidence; the self assurance and belief and the ability to come up with creative ideas and the courage to try them out, and collaborate to affect the desired changes in the world around them”.

Organisations with a flatter structure tend to be much more innovative. If innovation is strategically important to you, you need to be flat(ter).

Creative freedom

Innovation is driven by a more collaborative workplace in which transparency and creative freedom are far more important than hierarchical structure and inflexibility.

Organisational hierarchy and top-down structure can prevent employees from actively participating in the innovation process and being creative. Employees can feel intimidated, and fear being judged or chastised for unsuccessful ideas.

Flattening the organisation and removing hierarchical barriers recognises that innovation is driven with input from everyone.

Founder Bill Gore said in regards to his dream for W.L.Gore:

“I dreamed of an enterprise with great opportunity for all who would join in it, a virile organization that would foster self-fulfilment and which would multiply the capabilities of the individuals comprising it beyond their mere sum”.

The Gore website says:

“The culture of Gore is apparent when you see us work: we collaborate, we innovate, and we’re committed — because our success is Gore’s, and Gore’s success is ours”.

Gore employs 9,500 people in some fifty locations and is consistently ranked one of the best places to work and among the most innovative and profitable companies in the world.

Gore has no hierarchy, no bosses, and no job titles. At Gore every employee is known as an ‘Associate’ – everyone is an owner and accountable for outcomes.


Research data

Tim Kastelle is a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland's business school in Brisbane, Australia. His research data indicates that flat structures increase innovation and success.

“The level of success that these organisations are achieving is pretty high,” he says, “so it adds up to a fairly suggestive set of cases.”

Drawing on his research, Kastelle says organisations that include front-line employees in decision-making are “way more innovative and their performance is better” than traditionally organised companies.

In short

Hierarchy and centralised decision making stifles innovation and creativity, both of which are strategic advantages to all organisations.

Flat structures are far more likely to innovate.

Companies like Google, Valve and Toyota have opted for flat structures to create environments that foster innovation.

For organisations to survive and thrive they need to innovate and nurture creativity.

Coming up!

Upcoming posts in this series entitled ‘Kill the Hierarchy’ will continue to explore how we flatten the hierarchy in order to achieve rapid and decentralised decision-making, employee engagement, high levels of collaboration, widespread autonomy, trust and respect, and an environment in which everyone leads.


More posts on their way over the coming weeks and months, exploring how we need to take a fresh and radical look at organisational change management, and the changes we need to make if we are to thrive.

In the meantime, please subscribe to my posts so you have no fear of missing out!

Karen FerrisComment