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What Is Hierarchy Culture in the Workplace?

Hierarchy culture is a type of organizational structure that focuses on top-down leadership by creating strict levels of authority in a company. This structure has been accused of being rigid and outdated, and some believe it should be left in the past. While hierarchy culture isn’t for everyone, there may be some benefits to establishing some form of hierarchy in your business if it comes with clear expectations and strong leadership.

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Evolution of hierarchy culture

Cultural hierarchy is worldwide and goes as far back as the pharaoh leading Ancient Egypt’s society. Other hierarchy culture examples include modern political systems with a president at the top of the pyramid, then a vice president and so forth. The CEO is often seen as the leader of a company with executives and managers at lower levels down the line.

This top-down approach is one of the most popular types of leadership structures seen in corporate cultures. One person sits at the top while the rest of the employees work hard to climb their way up the ladder, gaining more authority in the company with each step they take. A higher position generally leads to having more responsibility within a company. These positions are sometimes represented as moving from a cubicle to a more spacious office or moving to a higher floor in the building.

Is this type of leadership still prevalent in the workforce? There does seem to be more of an emphasis on collaboration within companies, with leaders asking for insight from employees at all ranks. Instead of sitting in their office at the top of the ladder, leaders may try to get more involved with lower-level employees to break down barriers and encourage a team environment.

That being said, hierarchical structures are still very much a part of the modern workforce. Even in a collaborative setting, there is usually still one person who holds a higher rank than others. Having a hierarchy structure embedded in your company doesn’t have to be bad if your leadership style allows employees to trust you and feel important within their positions.

Hierarchy culture in the workplace

In a typical workplace, every employee has a manager or supervisor overseeing their work. The idea behind this is that everyone has someone who will keep them accountable and push them to finish their work efficiently.

As a leader, you may check in with your employees daily, weekly or however often you deem it necessary to ensure that they’ve completed their assigned tasks. This can help keep your company’s workflow running smoothly. It can also help your employees structure their workflow and give them clear expectations of tasks and deadlines.

When using a top-down approach, you create clear relationships between the individuals who work for you. The employees who have more authority, and therefore, more responsibility, are easily distinguishable. Employees of a lower rank know exactly who they should go to if they have questions or concerns about a task they’re working on.

However, if you leave decision-making to only a handful of your organization’s employees, it’s possible that they may miss important information. Higher-ups like executives might not know every single thing that happens in an organization’s lower levels and may not always make the most informed decisions for those employees. Often, leaders may try to make quick decisions to keep up with a fast-paced environment, while more complex problems may require more thought.

Everyone wants high-performing teams to keep their business functioning at optimal levels, which is why it’s important to decide how you want to structure your workforce.

Types of organizational structures

Four main types of organizational structures are seen in companies:

  • Clan: If collaboration is important to you, clan culture emphasizes a family-like corporate environment that focuses on creating common goals and reaching a consensus among many employees for decision-making. This is often the least competitive structure.
  • Market: For a more challenging environment, market culture emphasizes competitiveness between not only other organizations in the market but also among employees. It’s often the most aggressive form of organizational structure.
  • Adhocracy: In a business context, adhocracy emphasizes individual initiative and adapting to new conditions. If you want to create an environment where your employees feel empowered in their positions, this is the organizational structure to follow.
  • Hierarchy: To build long-term stability within your company, hierarchy culture focuses on maintaining a consistent structure and creating a shared set of values among all employees. Clear levels of authority and responsibility are established throughout the company.

Advantages of hierarchy culture

Provides stability and structure

For employees who don’t want to be leaders, a hierarchical structure offers them clear direction on how to do their jobs. It also helps leaders understand their responsibilities and to which employees they can assign tasks. Your employees may also feel more secure knowing they can remain in their positions and expect routine paychecks if that’s what they desire.

Motivates employees to seek promotions

There will always be employees looking for ways to advance their careers. A hierarchical structure offers your employees plenty of promotion opportunities to work toward as long as they’re willing to put in the effort to move up the corporate ladder. This also gives your employees a sense of purpose and direction within their careers, which can lead to higher satisfaction.

Loyalty within departments

By creating shared goals for your employees to work toward, they may feel more committed to their departments. This can create a team environment where everyone feels they serve an important role.

Disadvantages of hierarchy culture

Rivalry within departments

A hierarchical structure can create a team environment within departments, but it can also cause more rivalry when promotions are at stake. If multiple people within a department are hoping to be noticed for a leadership role, this can create competitiveness that may disrupt the harmony.

Lack of participation

In a top-down structure, leaders do most of the talking in meetings or group sessions. If your employees feel as if they’re not allowed to speak up or that what they say won’t make a difference in company decisions, they may not speak up at all. This can make it hard to maintain a team environment.

Limited ability for change

Since a rigid structure is one of a hierarchical culture’s main components, it can be hard for companies to adapt quickly to any market changes or create new policies to keep up with a rapidly evolving economy. Without flexibility, your employees may become unsatisfied if they feel you’re not meeting their needs.

Is hierarchy culture the right move?

Hierarchy culture isn’t a fit for everyone. Employees want more flexibility for a better work-life balance such as the option to work from home or more compassionate environments with less competition. There are ways to adapt hierarchy culture, such as emphasizing collaboration within your company and giving lower-level employees more opportunities to voice their opinions.

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