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April 5, 2017

#MTtalk: Disrupting the Hierarchy

Yolande Conradie

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Many years ago, when computers still had monochrome screens and could only run one program at a time, I worked in the property section of a bank. In those days, banks weren't known as being at the forefront of change. They often lagged behind when it came to changing systems and technology.

My (then) husband worked in IT at a company that was a pioneer in acquiring the latest technology. A big development back then was the Windows operating system, with its ability to run more than one program at a time.

At home I worked on Windows, but at work I still had to plod along on a single-program-at-a-time model. Of course, I got increasingly frustrated at work. Our IT manager wasn't the most flexible person, and he disliked change. When I asked him if we could put in a request for Windows-enabled computers, he flatly refused and wasn't even open to discussion. I was "gobsmacked!"

Knowing that our monthly staff meeting with the managing director was the next week, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to press my case. As was the procedure at staff meetings, the MD asked if anyone would like to add or ask anything. I was determined not to be stuck in the Middle Ages of technology forever. With the impetuousness of youth on my side, I asked him if there was any chance of us getting Windows-enabled computers any time soon.

He asked me what the merit was in doing so. After I gave him my explanation, he asked the IT manager to see him after the meeting to discuss the procurement of new computers. Of course I was elated, but the IT manager, not so much! If looks could kill, I wouldn't have survived that day!

Thinking of it now, and knowing how little I actually knew about computers, I can hardly believe I had the nerve to do what I did – and pull it off.

Disrupting the Hierarchy

Now that I'm older and wiser, I'm not a fan of disrupting the hierarchy and going over someone's head, but sometimes we may not have much choice.

From the answers contributed during our latest #MTtalk Twitter chat, it's clear that not all disruption of hierarchy is negative, but neither is it all positive.

Here are all the questions and some of the responses that we received.

Q1 Is hierarchy/following the chain of command still relevant in the workplace today? Yes or no, and why?

@Jikster2009 I think it depends on the business. I feel it is good to have a chain of command/hierarchy as long as it's supportive/inclusive.

@harrisonia Following a hierarchy is relevant because of respect for order and certain protocols.

Q2 How does office politics factor into disrupting the hierarchy?

Office politics seldom seem to have a positive effect...

@Yolande_MT The political power players manipulate the rules to suit their own agendas. The "in group" get away with it; others don't.

@whatnext_coach Office politics can get quite nasty/disruptive when subordinates try to topple their superiors, by upstaging them in meetings for example.

Q3 How does disrupting the hierarchy affect work relationships?

@BrainBlenderTec This is where circular models work best, as all relationships are on an even footing.

@leadandtriumph It should cause leaders to examine their abilities to lead.

Q4 What is the role of trust in maintaining or disrupting the hierarchy?

The issue of trust was a recurring theme throughout the chat.

@JKatzaman Mutual trust reinforces the hierarchy, which is only as strong as trust's weakest link.

@KLC2978 Trust is important but if you lose that in the person immediately above, you need to know that someone in the chain of command is accountable.

Q5 How would you manage a rebel who disrupts hierarchy purely because he/she likes to challenge the system?

Rebels thrive on disruption but, according to some participants, you should use the opportunity to coach them.

@ShereesePubHlth I always teach, "Take 5:" 5 minutes to comprehend, 5 to reflect, and 5 to respond. Be mindful in your reactions.

@whatnext_coach Coaching is a great way to get to the root cause of the employee's rebellion. Their reasons can bring insight to a needed change.

Q6 How would you handle your boss going directly to your team to give them work or direction?

@SanabriaJav This has a lot to do with trust. We have to be careful not to ego trip either. Your workers are really your boss' workers.

@Midgie_MT I would speak to them privately to reiterate the importance of going through me to discuss. Also, regular meetings to review work.

Q7 How would you handle an employee who goes directly to your boss simply because they have a personal/social relationship?

@tweetgayusri Creatively use the person to pass a message to the boss as in some cases I can't directly let him know.

The following participant's experience is probably what many people fear would happen:

@amypen64 Had one of these. Went to the boss to tell him every little mistake or what was going on. Another reason why I left.

Q8 Your boss procrastinates when making decisions and a key project is at risk. What do you do?

@BiscuitByte Ask whether there is anything you can do to help the project and decision along.

@alberMoire If I have good relations with him/her, I'll try to talk and help with that.

Q9 What advice would you give someone who is considering going over their boss's head?

Everybody agreed that this is risky and that you should make sure you know what you're doing.

@MicheleDD_MT Explain the risks. No-one likes to be blindsided. Could be career-limiting and damage relationships.

@ShereesePubHlth Going over a boss's head is the nuclear option. Don't do it unless you're prepared for the consequences of your actions.

Q10 How realistic are theories that attempt to bring an end to hierarchy? Do you think it can work?

@70mq In my opinion, we will see this more in millennials. Today anyone has the ability to engage with the CEO of any company through social media.

@JKatzaman Ending hierarchies is a fine idea if you never hope to produce a product or service and instead just sing campfire songs.

Next time, on #MTtalk...

What's your pet hate when it comes to meetings? Please vote in our Twitter poll over here to let us know.

In our next #MTtalk on Friday April 14, our topic is "Meetings: Herding Cats and Taming Alligators." We'll talk about the difficulties that people experience and meetings and how to get a handle on them. Please join us at 1pm EST/5pm GMT/10:30pm IST.

To participate in our chat about meetings, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “All Tweets” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. To join the conversation, simply include #MTtalk in your tweet and it will show up in the chat feed.


In the meantime, here are some resources that relate to the topic of disrupting the hierarchy:

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