HIERARCHY Ethics

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Hierarchy is one of the most common organizational models after five designs. It’s one of the simplest, most straightforward hierarchies — in fact, it’s just a line. The line goes from bottom to top and each person at the bottom has a direct report who reports to them and so on.

But what if you were designing your own hierarchy? What would be some questions you needed to think about? You could start with any or all of these questions: ‘What are our values?’ ‘What are we trying to achieve?’ or ‘Who do we want on our team?’  These are three good starting points for thinking through any hierarchy that you create.

1. What are our values?

Values are guiding principles. They’re more than just inspiring words – they’re the reasons and goals why you want to exist as an organization. What are your organization’s values? If you don’t know, then maybe you should spend some time thinking about them. It’s a really important question.

Now you might say, “Well, we just want to be successful, right? We want to make money.” Maybe it’s not that complicated. Maybe you just want to be the best. Maybe you want to dominate your market – maybe a monopoly is what you really want. But wherever you start, values are different than goals – they’re deeper and more meaningful. In some ways goals are almost like tactics or strategies.

2. What are we trying to achieve?

Goals are broad statements of what your organization wants to achieve. But values, by their nature, aren’t broad statements – they’re more like personal philosophies. They’re the principles that guide your actions. So when you think about goals it’s important to ask: “What is the mission?” Or “What is our vision?” Or “What’s our purpose for being here?” These are all good questions to ask when thinking about your goal or the action that you want to take. It’s also important to remember that a mission isn’t just a goal – it’s a value statement or philosophy (see point number 4).

3. Who do we want on our team?

Who, in turn, brings us back to the question of values. We often think about how we want our team to perform or to look like or what skills they should bring. But the most important question is “What kind of people do we want?” Are we looking for people who are flexible and adaptable? Do we really want a diverse team that represents lots of different experiences and perspectives? Or are we looking for one-dimensional individuals who can really master their craft without much thought outside their own specialized area? The answer might seem obvious – but that’s exactly why it’s an important question.

4. What kind of philosophy do we want?

Philosophy is really about values. It’s a value-based system and set of beliefs. You can have a philosophy of life or management or entrepreneurship. But whatever it is, it’s the value statement that guides your actions – it’s what makes you act in a certain way. And this brings us back to hierarchy – because hierarchy is also based on values and philosophies.

Hierarchies are one of the ways that we organize our teams and so, like any other system, they are really about values and philosophies. They’re about choosing who we want to surround ourselves with in order to achieve certain goals or make certain progress towards our vision.

5. Who is really in charge, anyway?

So in order for all these questions to have meaning, we need to have a clear answer about who’s really in charge of this team or organization. And this answers another question: “Where is power vested?”  If we don’t know where the power resides and how it’s been distributed then our decisions become less clear. And if we don’t have clear decisions then our team members won’t be able to understand what they’re supposed to do and they’ll probably feel confused and overwhelmed.

But more than that – where the power resides means how we make decisions. Do we make them together? Do we make them at the top and then tell others what to do? Or do we just try and make our best guess about what’s going to happen, with limited information and then figure out how to make the best of it?

If you’re creating a hierarchy for a team or an organization then these are really important questions. They might not have seemed like questions about the structure of your company, but once you start thinking about that structure, you’ll realize that these are actually really powerful questions. And they’re all great starting points for thinking through your own personal values, your own idea of what’s important and who you want on your team to achieve those goals.

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