4 Ways to Improve the Life Sucking Beast of Hierarchy

Hierarchies done poorly are life sucking beasts. But there is no perfect organizational structure.


Advantages and dangers of hierarchy

#1. Advantage: Clear lines of accountability.

You always know who is in charge in hierarchies. The reason you care about something in hierarchical organizations is the person over you cares about it.


  1. Pleasing higher ups and neglecting lower downs. 
  2. Following instructions and not rocking the boat is advantageous.
  3. Leading is about position not competence.
  4. Success is about compliance not creativity.

#2. Advantage: Clear communication channels.

Communication goes up and down the chain of command through bosses.


  1. Bosses craft messages for personal advantage. Office politics thrive in bureaucracy.
  2. Teams don’t know what’s happening in other departments.
  3. Reporting gets out of hand. Leaders feel pressure to know everything that’s happening. They could be asked by a higher up for a report. It’s very bad to say, “I don’t know.”

#3. Advantage: Speed in turbulence and crisis.

Everyone looks to ‘the’ leader to set direction and make decisions when times get tough.


  1. Decisions slow to a crawl on day-to-day matters. People down the chain are afraid to make decisions out of fear of people up the chain.
  2. Paperwork becomes burdensome.
  3. Discussion, input, and feedback are strictly managed and controlled. Truth-telling is rare.

4 ways to improve hierarchies:

  1. Include the best interest of external customers in everything. Make pleasing customers more important than pleasing higher ups.
  2. Establish cross functional teams that have authority to make decisions and take action.
  3. Expect higher ups to walk around and talk with people. (Please don’t make this a production.)
  4. Place recordings of most meetings on the company’s intranet so all employees can tune in and keep current.

Warning: Poorly functioning hierarchies improve slowly. They don’t enjoy being disturbed.

How might hierarchies function more effectively.