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Can we really remove hierarchy without causing chaos?

Overcoming hierarchy without uncertainty is not possible. But by embracing uncertainty as the norm and accepting we live in a complex, unpredictable system, we will avoid chaos.

To adapt to the uncertainty we must be willing to try new ideas, practices, and models of organisation. Some may fail but, if they do, we’ ll continue to innovate until they succeed and by doing so avoid the alternative: maintaining the status quo way of working by attempting a command-and-control hierarchy in a world where this approach is guaranteed to fail.

What to focus on when overcoming hierarchy:

  • reimagining teams
  • encouraging openness
  • building trust, vulnerability, and common purpose
  • increasing personal freedom
  • pursuing diversity and wider networks
  • fostering creativity and testing ideas
  • demonstrating comfort with failure
  • encouraging empathy
  • adopting a partnership mindset
  • enabling personal mastery

If management decides on, and demands, the removal of hierarchy, then, whilst valiant, this is still characterised by more of the same: a command-and-control approach to change. To optimise our chances of succeeding at letting go of hierarchy and the top down culture it supports, then this change must be chosen in partnership with the teams and individuals involved, not just imposed on them.

Embarking on this worthy and necessary adventure will undoubtedly bring personal and organisational challenges. For example, not everyone currently in an organisation may be suited to a culture with higher degrees of personal responsibility. But, like all change, it will get easier with time and application.  A leader’s main role in this process will be to “curate the context” [link to FAQ] and monitor the organisation’s general health and alert the group if the organisation seems to be going way off course. The leader will not try to control the group or place restrictions on them but will act as a guide and support to help teams reach the goals and metrics they have volunteered to pursue.


“We cannot always escape our fears, but we can manage them. By accepting our fears, by acknowledging that we can fail, and by becoming comfortable with what happens if we do, we can much more effectively move toward realizing our ideas at the intersection.”

Frans Johansson, The Medici Effect


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  1. Cassa Grant

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