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How to develop talent in a flat organisation

David Robertson

Development holacracy

Holacracy is a growing management and leadership trend – but who decides what talent to develop when traditional management structures are missing? David Robertson from Forum EMEA has some tips

Many organisations are becoming flatter (some through design and some through downsizing) and this is impacting the traditional management hierarchy. The organisations who have adopted this approach, called holacracy, or who are experimenting with it, are usually project driven rather than line focused. They have fewer full time job roles and titles and develop a more social, less formal matrixed workplace where teams are formed to work on projects and people chosen to join the team based on their capabilities.  Once the work is complete, the teams are disbanded and members go off to work on other projects. There may be a number of different team leaders during the life of a project; all chosen by the team based on the project needs and phases. 

So how does this method of working affect the way companies develop their teams, especially when there's no official hierarchy ladder to climb?

Developing the right skills

Firstly flat, social, project led structures are interestingly a magnet for Gen Y talent. There is a lot expounded about Gen Y's preferences; a group with apparently little tolerance for traditional chains of command, preferences for flexible, fast moving environments which inspire a sense of community and collaboration and  provide the opportunity to make a contribution that has a real impact. As the ‘war for talent’ gets tougher, organisations with flatter and more open structures will have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent from the Gen Y pool.  However, as organisations attempt to change the way they operate, they will need to consider the implications for how they develop and service project teams as these teams will need a different or enhanced skillset.

Project teams will need a 'hub' where they can access certain processes and skills to help them in their role.  They will need resources, skills, tools, processes, systems and support to help them start up, plan, schedule and run the project. They will need systems to help measure progress and to manage budgets as well as the skills to deal with technical and people issues and eventually close out and break up the team once the project has delivered the expected outcomes. 

Individuals will also need to be self-motivated, great at self-promotion, and intentional in their choices of work to thrive in a project driven environment where people are chosen for work because of their abilities.  Owning and manage a 'leadership profile,' to showcase their experience will be fundamental to attracting work and the right kind of work which builds the skills and experience they need to reach their career goals.

Support mechanisms for staff

But networking or selling oneself doesn't come naturally to everyone. For companies to have complete visibility and access to the right skills at the right time, they need to have in place support mechanisms which share and develop talent within the business.

 More companies are using effective social collaboration tools such as intranet sites to organise their learning communities so people can exchange experience and advice, showcase profiles and their experience, document and map out desired career pathways and opportunities, and capture best practice. This is also where the individual will showcase their experience, their current commitments and their interest in supporting other projects.
These learning communities will be the employee's gateway to building their profile across the business and to securing further work as individuals can share their learning experiences and success with their colleagues. They can use these communities to collect 'stamps of approval' on their leadership profile based on  peer feedback and project outcomes, which then  gives them a 'passport' onto other projects.

As well as a place to share information, these communities will also be a place to learn and develop.  Web applications, updated regularly, allow employees to access coaching and support so they can develop the skills needed to land them the next project and further their career.

Creating new skillsets

So developing teams in a flat structure isn't necessarily about building on the talents people already have. In some cases, it's helping people create a completely different set of skills which they need if they're to prosper in this new and, what can be, alien environment.  But learning communities, where individuals can progress their ability, share their career highlights and aspirations, and explore opportunities will be 'virtual' and self-sustaining.  Instead of being the career experts and providing advice on learning and development, the role of the L&Ds will be to create and service the information hub so teams can gain access to the resources they need to ensure their projects run smoothly such as start up tools or budget planners.  L&Ds will act as guides, counsellors, thinking partners by moderating and curating the knowledge and information that is shared. Overall, L&D will provide the fuel that project teams need to deliver against the needs of the business.

David Robertson is VP of Forum EMEA, global experts in leadership development and sales training.


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