Leadership and Client Orientation in a Flat Organizational Structure

The quality of services and problem-solving methods directly depends on how the leadership system is organized in a company. This is particularly relevant for us because P2H has a flat organizational structure. We have a minimum number of management hierarchy levels, and a great deal of authority has been granted to professionals within the teams. This considerably simplifies the decision-making process and contributes to faster introduction of innovations. At the same time, it also requires a special approach to leadership. In this post, we would like to tell you how exactly we built our leadership system and how it’s related to the company’s client-orientation approach.

Why Is the Leadership Issue Relevant for a Flat Organizational Structure?

In one of the previous posts, we discussed how a flat organizational structure functioned in our company. Now we would like to touch upon the leadership issue in this type of structure and explain why it is so relevant.

The present-day world is growing more multifaceted and complex. It’s virtually impossible for a single person to manage all this complexity even within a single company. This is why the emphasis is put on partnership, collaboration, and active teamwork. In a situation where everyone can realize their full potentials regardless of their position or status, chances to make optimal decisions increase.

Considering this situation, we realized that the conventional definition of a leader needed revision. Traditionally, leadership is viewed as the ability to motivate others with a personal example and lead the way. In this case, the entire process is controlled by a leader. This is the way hierarchical systems are organized. An approach like this makes it impossible to show others what the leader is currently focused on and what goal he or she is trying to achieve. This, however, is the key point. To bring something new into a process, everyone involved in it must be aware of the leader’s focus of attention. Only awareness of the common goal, as opposed to just following someone’s instructions, makes it possible to find an optimal way to reach it.

For that reason, we revised our definition of leadership. We now view it as a role that can be played by anyone able to solve a problem or handle a task in the best possible way in that moment. The key point here is that a leader must be able to draw other people’s attention to a new goal. A leader doesn’t lead the way to achieving this goal; he or she needs only to show in what direction others should be looking in order to see it. If people involved in the process respond, we consider the goal significant. An approach to leadership like this allows us to leverage all the benefits of a flat organizational structure to the fullest since it enables introduction of innovative ideas in any segment of the structure.

Situational Leaders in a Company: Where Do They Come From?

Modern culture invariably paints a leader as a proactive, communicative person who can motivate others, clearly set priorities, lead the way, think strategically, and so on. Do we always understand what’s inside leadership, though?

We wouldn’t be exaggerating if we defined a leader as a person who has to make decisions in a situation with uncertain risks. A definition like this allows us to understand where the qualities we’ve described above come from and why they are necessary. They reveal themselves in a flat organizational structure particularly well. This type of structure doesn’t assume direct control or issuing instructions. Instead, it has mutual agreement at its core. In a setting like this, anyone involved in a process may have to make a choice at some point. Therefore, a leader is not a position. It’s a personal choice determined by answering the question, “Am I ready to accept responsibility and then work with the outcome of my decision?”

For a flat organizational structure to function efficiently, it’s important to create conditions that will contribute to the appearance of situational leaders. These are people who can impact a process or certain decisions depending on their expertise rather than on their status. To create an environment for leaders like these to appear, at least two conditions must be observed: free access to information and availability of tools. As soon as everyone involved in a process sees the entire value generation process and can impact it, situational leaders will appear. We have found proof for this from our own experience on multiple occasions. Fully understanding our clients’ needs and the company’s capabilities to meet them, some of our developers organized entire clusters made up of several development teams. Cases of situational role switching are not rare at P2H. For example, QA professionals assumed the role of PMs and assisted with project management tasks. Besides, we have the experience of restructuring the company by involving not only the top executives but also developers and project managers. An atmosphere like this contributes to the free exchange of ideas and innovations, wherein the employees have an opportunity to view a process from a different perspective.

How Leadership and Client Orientation Are Related

Traditionally, client orientation is taken literally as working towards meeting a client’s needs. Quite frequently, when this approach is adopted, the development process turns into attempts to satisfy all of a client’s whims at any cost. We view our mission differently. We find it important to help our clients solve their problems in the best possible way. Therefore, we regard client orientation as the ability to look in the same direction as the client. This means that we know about a client’s needs and are ready to walk the entire path together with them until their needs are met.

This approach is in sync with the approach to leadership in the company that we’ve discussed above. In our case, a leader is looking in the same direction as the client, working in the common value generation flow together with them. Operating in this way, a leader can draw other people’s attention not to tasks but to problems that need to be solved. This is where leadership and client orientation synergy occurs. Both are looking in the same direction, clearly understanding the problem they are working on. This adds another value to a process — the ability to handle a task as best as possible.