Do you Report Up or Support Down?

In every organisation, the approach taken in establishing levels of authority is critical to a well-structured operation.

A common methodology is to place people with the most accountability at the highest levels of authority. This makes perfect sense. What is often overlooked, or implemented without due consideration, is how these people use their authority. In most organisations, “authority” means power, influence, a mandate to make decisions, and even more-so, overturn the decisions of others.

This traditional approach is flawed in many aspects. The way people with authority act and behave is fundamental to the success of an organisation and sets the tone for everyone to follow.

Defining actions that align to someone with authority is the first aspect to resolve. It shouldn’t be, the right to overturn decisions, undermine the role of others, instruct, or demand. But unfortunately, this is often the interpretation.

In contrast, those with authority should respect the roles and responsibilities of others, respect the decisions of others, provide advice, guidance, and assistance. This leads to a far more collaborative and respectful environment.

Once there is a common understanding within the definition of “authority” and why it exists, people recognise the benefits and embrace the concept, rather than bemoaning the concept of others having more authority.

The second aspect to resolve is how authority is imparted. Usually there are two concerns of people with less authority.

One is the concern of providing negative news or highlighting poor performance. To negate this, those with higher authority must show a want and willingness to receive bad news, so that assistance can be provided, and the issue improved.

Additionally, no one should be protected. Pushing negative news down rather than raising it to a higher level, is a common protective behaviour. Resentment builds when someone entitled to the privileges of authority, refuses to be held accountable for the poor performance of others, or refuses to raise it themselves for the purpose of self-preservation. Those with authority must be authentic in their role of being accountable for outcomes.

So, the question to be answered; Do flat structures work? What does “flat” actually mean? Does everyone have the same authority in a flat structure? I’d suggest not. Is no one accountable? This would be concerning. Do those that promote flat structures really have them? They may not be top heavy, but that doesn’t mean flat.

My advice is, rather than promote flat or worse still try to achieve flat, embrace a vertical structure, because we all know it’s the only way to operate effectively. Get the balance right throughout, not too heavy, not too light, at different levels of authority. And most importantly, rather than have everyone report up, insist that everyone support down.