Every few years a new workforce trend comes along that changes the way we work and manage. 

I specifically remember the disruptive power of social media, open office layouts, remote working policies, and the emphasis of culture as a business advantage

One of the latest trends reshaping workplace dynamics is the idea of flat organizational charts. Flat org charts are the result of reducing the number of levels between staff employees and executives in an effort to increase agility, communication, and shorten decision-making processes. 

Flat org charts aren't a new trend, but I've noticed a resurgence due to the continued development of robotic process automation (RPA), the expanded use-cases of artificial intelligence, and the development of mobile workplace solutions. With the advancement of technology, doing more with less is becoming more sustainable. But, it comes with its fair share of challenges. 

In addition to concerns of burnout and role confusion, there is also the extra burden placed on effective management practices as leaders take on larger and more complex teams. 

So far, it hasn't been going well. 

According to management research, training, and consulting firm Rainmaker Thinking, 90 percent of managers fail to practice leadership fundamentals on a regular basis. These include coaching, delegating, training, providing performance and development feedback, and employee recognition. 

A big part of the issue has to deal with the complexity of managing in today's workforce, says Rainmaker Thinking. These are the five trends it identified: 

1. Increasing intensity, complexity, and pace of work. 

Jobs are becoming more and more convoluted. With less hierarchy comes more diffusion of responsibility. As a result, role intricacies increase as employees self-manage regularly operating outside the lines of their normal job descriptions. 

In addition to dynamic job elements, managers also have to understand how their teams use bots, software, and communication tools in tandem with their work. Augmented workplaces add a whole new layer of complexity making employees' jobs that much more difficult to visualize. Oh, and everything needed to be done yesterday. 

2. Hiring and retention are becoming more challenging. 

We're in the toughest employment market in recent history. The unemployment rate is the lowest its been in the last half-century making qualified talent near impossible to find. As a result, many organizations resort to poaching employees from other organizations, therefore, exacerbating retention issues. 

With teams being understaffed, managers are under additional pressure to maximize their team's performance and take on extra work themselves with fleeting resources. It goes without saying, but this leads to burnout and more retention issues. 

3. Team sizes are growing. 

Not only are flat org charts increasing responsibilities and team sizes, but there's also a good chance that managers are accountable for remote employees. 

Managing a digital team adds layers of complexity, and requires leaders to be more intentional with employee outreach and communication--which is difficult when you're already overwhelmed with work. 

4. Managers have to do more with less. 

To maintain the same level of performance, or in most cases, increase it, managers have to figure out how to boost team productivity. Due to the required effort, managers usually opt to take on the burden themselves. It's no wonder why an overwhelming majority say that they don't have the time to practice management fundamentals like coaching, mentoring, and employee development. 

5. Working relationships are becoming more interdependent. 

As employees branch out, get involved, and take on more work, they inevitably start reporting to short-term project leads and cross-functional managers. Although it takes some of the pressure off of their primary manager, competing priorities and mix-messages become a concern. 

Believe it or not, there are ways to get out in front of these trends. To create space for management fundamentals, organizations need to support managers and invest in team resources. 

For managers, it's important to underscore the importance of delegating, proactive communication, collaboration, and employee one-on-one meetings. By offloading work, clarifying expectations, and providing high-quality feedback and guidance, managers will teach employees how to think for themselves while simultaneously creating more bandwidth. 

For teams, it's important to learn how they work, and equip them with tools and technology to streamline workflows. For example, much of my organization's work is structured in projects. To increase team productivity, we've invested in project management software and training, collaboration platforms, and workstyle assessments to better leverage employee strengths. 

It very well could be one of the toughest times in history to be a manager. However, flat org charts offer managers a unique opportunity to exert themselves as leaders and coaches, if they're willing to accept the idea that management and leadership is an organizational priority. 

Published on: Dec 16, 2019
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