By Michael Holland

Leaders assume that the organizational structure of their team should stay constant until some outside force tells them they need to think about restructuring.  Like robots, leaders just work day-in and day-out facilitating meetings exactly the same way, enforcing company policies, playing politics, wearing the same clothes, month after month.    

Employees’ acceptance of or rebellion of your hierarchal control actually ebbs and flows much more dynamically than you could ever imagine.  Formal job titles convey some sense of the hierarchy within your team and the company, but it’s the perception of their environment and the potential scarcity of resources (time, safety, money, power, influence, size of the cubicle) which really drives the informal acceptance/rebellion.   

The chemical reaction within our bodies changes quickly when our environment changes and more importantly, how we perceive the changes are affecting our safety and comfort.  There’s a bunch of psychological/sociological deep thinking on this topic, which is likely beyond your attention span at the moment, so let’s keep it simple with two extreme examples.

  • During a major disaster, an emergency responder directs you to immediately run in a certain direction to safety.  You don’t notice – or care – if they are the fire chief or happen to be a rookie cop.
  • You just won the Powerball Lottery for $150 million.  You open your email and read through a lengthy email for your boss restating the HR policy that your 1.35% raise will be held up if you don’t complete your 9-page self-evaluation by the end of the day.

In your everyday life as a leader, you should be thinking about how you could adjust the perception of hierarchy in the team.  Consider these areas which you could leverage to increase or decrease the perception of hierarchy.

  • Meeting Structure
    • Increase: sit in the power seat at end of table, utilize consistent weekly agendas, start having daily huddles with each sub-team
    • Decrease:  sit in the middle on the long side, free form the agenda at the start of the meeting with the whiteboard, encourage ad-hoc encounters pulling people together for discussions in the hallway as they are walking by
  • Who’s On Point
    • Increase:  clearly identify – and over communicate – who’s in charge of a small projects, articulate links/handoffs/connections between sub-teams and employees, walk the floor authoritatively, stand taller
    • Decrease:  create co-leaders for projects, encourage creative collaboration, walk the floor like you’re at a summer BBQ doing a meet-n-greet
  • What You Wear
    • Increase:  business suits, power ties, dark bold colors, guys shave every day
    • Decrease:  leverage the casual Friday look every day, bright and earthy colors, guys leverage that 3 day shaving look (if you can pull it off)

Leaders who lead well will invest the time to think about their team and the environment each and every day to determine what they may need to adjust to enable the best opportunity to influence their team.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Change your typical wardrobe for several days and take particular note how you team interacts with you.
  • Do you feel comfortable and stable at work or the opposite?  How are your thoughts throughout the day impacted by that feeling?
  • Ask your boss to sit in a different seat than she normally does in a staff meeting.  Talk with her afterwards to discuss how she felt and what you observed within your peers during the meeting.