The Complete Guide To The 5 Types Of Organizational Structures For The Future Of Work

Over the past few weeks I've been writing about various types of organizational structures that either already exist in today’s business landscape or are starting to emerge as viable options for the future of work. I explore each of these structures and concepts in my book The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization. However, I've been going through each one of these in detail and you can see the 5 part series with links below:

·       The traditional hierarchy (click to read)

·       Flatter organizations (click to read)

·       Flat organizations (click to read)

·       Flatarchies (click to read)

·       Holacratic organizations (click to read)

Here's a brief overview of the five types of structures as well as a handy visual the shows you the actual structures of each.

The 5 Types of Organizational Structure - image01(07-06-15)Traditional hierarchy

There are many challenges with this model but to name a few. Communication typically flows from the top to the bottom which means innovation stagnates, engagement suffers, and collaboration is virtually non-existent. This type of environment is riddled with bureaucracy and is extremely sluggish. This is why the hierarchy is perhaps the biggest vulnerability for any organization still employing it. It opens up the doors for competitors and new incumbents to quickly take over. There is also no focus on the employee experience in this type of a structure and as organizations around the world are exploring alternative organizational models, those still stuck with the hierarchy are going to have one heck of a time trying to attract and retain top talent. This is the model I firmly believe is on its way out of the world of work and will be replaced by one of the models below.

Flatter organizations

Unlike the traditional hierarchy which typically sees one way communication and everyone at the top with all the information and power; a “flatter” structure seeks to open up the lines of communication and collaboration while removing layers within the organization. As you can see there are fewer layers and that arrows point both ways. Obviously a very simplified way to look at this type of a company but hopefully it gets the point across. For larger organizations this is the most practical, scalable, and logical approach to deploy across an entire company. This is the model that most large (and many mid-size) organizations around the world are moving towards. It’s true, some form of hierarchy still does exist within this model but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case. In flatter companies there is still a strong focus on communication and collaboration, improving the employee experience, challenging the status quo around traditional management models, and the like. But instead of completely reinventing the entire company and introducing a radical new structure and approach to work, it achieves similar results in far shorter term and with much less effort and resource allocation. 

Flat organizations

Unlike any other corporate structure that exists, flat companies are exactly that…flat. Meaning there are usually no job titles, seniority, managers, or executives. Everyone is seen as equal. Flat organizations are also oftentimes called or referred to as self-managed organizations (there can be some differences but for our case we will put them together). The most famous example of this comes from Valve, the gaming company responsible for classics such as Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Portal, and many others. At Valve there are no job titles and nobody tells you what to work on. Instead all the employees at Valve can see what projects are being worked on and can join whichever project they want. If an employee wants to start their own project then they are responsible for securing funding and building their team. For some this sounds like a dream for others, their worst nightmare.  I don’t see this as something that is practical or scalable for larger organizations when we think about the future of work. Smaller and some medium size companies might be able to operate in this type of an environment but when you get to organizations with thousands of employees then it becomes challenging.


Somewhere in between hierarchies and flat organizations lie flatarchies. These types of companies are a little bit of both structures. They can be more hierarchical and then have ad-hoc teams for flat structures or they can have flat structures and form ad-hoc teams that are more structured in nature. Organizations with this type of structure are very dynamic in nature and can be thought of a bit more like an amoeba without a constant structure. This type of a structure can work within any type of company large or small. However a flatarchy is to be thought of as a more temporary structure which creates isolated pockets of new structures when needed, such as in the case of developing a new product or service. This is starting to become more common as organizations around the world invest more time and money into creating innovation programs that look beyond a set R&D department. It’s not hard to imagine having a permanent structure as a “flatter organization” which then gives employees the opportunity to create special teams when needed. This model is quite powerful yet also more disruptive than the other structures explored. The main benefit here is the focus on innovation which is quite a strong competitive advantage in the future of work.

Holacratic organizations

One of the things I've always said about holacracy is that I believe there are ways to achieve some of the desired effects without having to go through such a radical change. It's sort of like trying to improve the way your car runs by taking out the entire engine and rebuilding it instead of working on some of the core areas that might really drive performance. Sometimes ripping out the engine and starting from scratch isn't always as an option, especially as the car is moving, like most organizations always are. My opinion is that holacracy can be more viable for smaller or medium size organizations or perhaps larger organizations that have started off with holacracy as their base operating model. However, it's very hard for me to imagine a large organization with tens or hundreds of thousands of employees around the world implementing something like this. Holacracy is still very much an emerging structure with a lot of inserting concepts but we still need more case studies and examples over a longer period of time. Zappos will perhaps give us the best look at what a transformation to holacracy can look like, but I suspect we will need to wait another 2 years to really get a sense of the impact


Putting People First to Create the Future of Work


By Gloria Lombardi

The benefits of a well-designed and well-managed digital workplace should be obvious, but it’s not enough to simply invest in the latest, greatest technology. The cultural shift required for embedding new ways of working demands a clear business change strategy, and most importantly, a deep understanding of employees’ needs.

A decent digital workplace enables real-time communication and synchronous, or asynchronous, collaboration that cuts down admin and improves productivity. Social communication tech enables the previously unheard majority to be directly involved with business and so improves agility. And emerging technologies, such as flow technology, pragmatic analytics, AI and chatbots, can analyse masses of data, free people from repetitive tasks, and offer a different interface to systems.

But it’s wise to be wary; all this tech, all these new interfaces and systems and apps can feel overwhelming or intrusive for some people, and may even make them feel disconnected from their colleagues.

While our tech is now ‘always on’ and we are ‘always connected’, we should remember that work belongs to humans. Business belongs to people. Technology must serve our needs, not the other way around. A simple ethos like this is something all organisations need, to be productive while still being focused on the meaning of work and the value of the end result.

The future of work is being created right now by our developing ways of working and by innovators in the field, and will be supported by the evolution of next gen enterprise infrastructure. Our supporting tech will need to interact with individuals in useful and convenient ways, it will need to prioritise people, putting them first. This is what Juliet Hailstone, Head of Marketing at people first, firmly believes.

MARGINALIA spoke with Hailstone to explore how the people first platform contributes to the future of work. Powered by artificial intelligence features, the platform promises to deliver improved productivity and engagement. In this interview, Hailstone shares her views on digital transformation’s impact on HR, the impact of AI on the employee experience, and offers her predictions for 2018.

Gloria Lombardi: Our workplaces have been transformed by technology. How do you see the evolution of HR as a consequence of this digital transformation?

Juliet Hailstone: Looking at the impact of digital transformation on people and how it impacts their expectations within the world of work, it seems that companies are spending more and more money on HR technology and engagement tools; this type of technology stack is growing. But employee engagement, productivity, and the overall satisfaction of employees are all decreasing. So right now, something isn’t working. We need to ask why this is?

One of the reasons is that technology is often applied to the world of work in ways that compromise people’s productivity rather than enhancing it. A recent study by Gallup found 52 percent of employees are going through the motions of being at work – doing what they’ve got to do – but are often not engaged, not happy and therefore not as productive as they could be if they brought their ‘full selves’ to the party.

One of the main impacts of digital transformation is that people practitioners and strategists have a bigger responsibility to try and fix all this. Primarily, it involves considering the world of work from the people aspect: What do people need? How do they work? How can the company help them to be the best they can be, to benefit of their own happiness and productivity levels?

So rather than it being about processes and systems, the responsibility now is to use the technology to put people first. We could continue to let tech dominate human relationships and prompting growing levels of disengagement, or we could put people at the heart of everything, and make digital transformation work for them.

GL: So, what should HR do to ensure they are putting people first when adopting digital tools?

JH: Businesses need to get on board with a new kind of relationship between the employer and the employee. Putting people first involves companies committing to a more open relationship with people. It’s respectful and balanced, and it’s about achieving the best for both parties. For business leaders and their HR teams, it’s about accepting the inevitable culture change, working to embed a new ethos, and considering the different ways employees and employers can work together to achieve the best possible results.

GL: Could you share a concrete example?

JH: I can use ourselves, people first, as an example. We live and breathe the ethos of ‘people first’. We have very respectful relationships with each other no matter where someone would sit in the traditional ‘business hierarchy’ (we have a psychologically flat structure). We know each other’s strengths, and we are decisive on how we want technology to be used. We obviously use the people first platform ourselves. The chatbot’s ‘Focus Mode’ is my personal favourite – it screens our emails and helps protect our moments of optimal productivity.

There’s a great deal of discussion around being in the flow at work at the moment, and that’s what the people first team lives. Our technology complements it and helps us to stay in the flow, and be productive and engaged. We’re strongly connected to our purpose.

GL: How does the people first platform work, exactly?

JH: The people first platform very much contributes to the future of work. It is built on Microsoft Azure technology (PaaS). The app includes the HR management tools you would expect to find in a well-established HR system, but that is only the start. people first applies AI and flow technology to keep people happy, engaged and at their most productive. The system proactively uses data to support managers and employees to do the best job they can – be that during an augmented check-in, through automatic job crafting, or through chatbot briefings, coaching and ‘Focus Mode’. It’s all about keeping people in the happy, productive, energised and engaged flow – where people are energised by their work to deliver the best outputs they possibly can.

So, the people first app is much more than just an HR system; it’s about people realisation.

And technology-wise, the open people platform within which the people first app sits is truly open technology, so our partners can easily link to people first, or build their own apps using the people first development tools and sell them on the people first marketplace.

GL: How does your use of AI impact the employee experience? 

JH: people first is infused with artificial intelligence. It is everywhere – from employees’ ability to undertake transactional HR matters such as booking holiday through their chatbot, to automatic data insights fed to those that need them.

During check-ins, people first virtually coaches managers through the process using insights, almost acting as a third person in the room that is recording the process and making recommendations to ensure that both parties get the best outcomes.

The system learns when employees are at their most productive and helps them to protect their focus time, recommending ‘focus mode’ activation to protect them from interruptions.

There are many more examples – hopefully these examples show how infused and intelligent people first AI is, and how ready it is to help keep employees happy and in the productive flow right now. The entire people first platform is intelligent enough to help any employee to do their best work. But it’s not ‘big brother’; the platform isn’t watching people work – people are working with the platform to create a better work life.

GL: Looking at the year head, do you have any expectations around the future of work. What are your future of work predictions for 2018?

JH: We should assume that AI and automation will continue to impact work, but people will remain the most important focus. Our work systems and tools will take on aspects of our personal tech and our consumer tech, and people will bring their personal productivity tactics to the workplace.

The technology that fails to take on board the people aspect of work, that fails to genuinely help people when they’re new, when they’re busy, when they’re frustrated, or simply when they want to give more of themselves but don’t know how, will not be fit for the future of work.

The future of work is about people. The most innovative and most useful tools will help people find their flow – to be productive and enjoy their work. Such positive engagement benefits both parties, the individual and the organisation; it’s an alliance. Organisations will need to recognise the value of this alliance, building respectful relationships to support a happy and engaged workforce.

Matching Work and Skills in a VUCA World

Most companies face the effects of the VUCA world. They are operating in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous conditions –  in this environment speed is decisive. The challenges are obvious: Right application of talent to the right job at the perfect time. In this endeavor, time is often the vital parameter deciding whether a company leaves the market – or stays.

What to do, how to react?

To showcase the new complexity in the labor market, we identified three main trends:

  • Current skill-supply is not matching current skill demand. For most companies it is nearly impossible to find the right talents on the market. Making things worse, it is also increasingly difficult to leverage skills of their own employees: In a recent global survey of job seekers conducted by LinkedIn, 37 percent of respondents said their current job does not fully utilize their skills or provides them with enough challenges.
  • Employees can’t apply their skills to the full as they are stuck in pre-defined roles. In a recent survey of OECD countries, more than one in four adults reported a mismatch between their current skill sets and the qualifications required to do their jobs. This sentiment results in a growing fear that parts of the existing skill sets will not be relevant in the future.
  • Workforce is increasingly diverse and increasingly wants to work independently. An Upwork study reveals that four times more hiring managers expect their usage of freelancers to increase in 2018 than those who expect it to decrease.

We do face a challenge: We underperform when it comes to matching work demand to appropriate skills. Since requirements keep changing constantly, this means failing in a crucial task. On top of that, we must admit that our current talent mechanisms, e.g. static career paths, are not fit for purpose – neither in the light of modern work environment, nor for people who like to shape their own their careers.

What if we could optimize the match of supply of skills and demand of work?

In November 2017, we met with our client’s network and discussed the benefits matching: Among other advantages, a more skill-based organization increases work productivity by up to 9 % and decreases cost by up to 7 %. From those in-house-meeting, we derived a mandate to explore this topic, using a co-creation approach.

Co-creation is a core element of working at TI People: Two times a year, TI People explore an innovative HR-case in collaboration with their clients. If the innovation seems promising, TI People offers a co-creation experience to build an actionable tool.

After conducting expert interviews, first findings are up for discussion:

  • Transparency of skills is a prerequisite of new and agile organizational formats. On organizational levels, many companies experiment with setting up agile organizational formats, but struggle to staff agile teams as they are not aware of actual workforce skills.
  • Skill Management is a new field of a forward-looking HR strategy. It entails the following building blocks: 1.) Work decomposition 2.) Skill detection, 3.) Future skill demand prediction 4.) Work/ Skill matching and finally, 5.) a new lens on Talent Management
  • Skill management is too broad – nobody knows where to start. There is a lot of buzz in the media, but there is almost no guidance how to approach skill management as a strategy. Companies lack a clear understanding of ‘their first 100 days of skill management’, and how to determine their current maturity level in skill management.
  • Detecting skills comes with data validation challenges. Companies are using various new tools to match skills with appropriate work, such as talent profiles, project market places etc. However, most struggle with the validation of skills that employees attribute to themselves. Even links to feedback mechanisms and endorsements didn’t give them the needed data validity.
  • Employee ownership is a mandate for skill management. Employees increasingly leave organizations because career options are not advertised clearly or are missing altogether. If there are matches between employee demands and job openings, the application process should be coupled with a new opportunity for employees to manage their own career. As company boundaries blur, it should be possible to use career management-tools and match skills to work across company’s lines and a range of job profiles.

Please share your experiences and views on this very exciting topic – we are looking forward to entering a discussion with you!

Can The Blockchain Fix The Recruiting Industry?

Anyone that works in business is aware of the unspoken layer of recruiting that is pervasive in every organization. Either recruiters are actively trying to place someone at an organization, or they’re actively trying to poach someone from a competitor. But recruiters seem to be a consistent participant in the hiring process for most companies.

But were you also aware that one of the biggest issues facing recruiters isn’t the sourcing of candidates, but rather their big headaches come from vetting and qualifying candidates for positions.

One big requirement for most companies is that their candidates provided by recruiters are able to check all of the requirements for the position and that their credentials are legitimate. Which can cause recruiters to have to become forensic detectives in ensuring that work history and education backgrounds are legitimate. Or, what usually is the case, they just take the resume at face value and place their stamp of approval on the candidate and move on. Which is not ideal.

This fast tracking of critical steps has led to many pie-in-the-face moments from companies who later discovered that their executives didn’t graduate with the degrees they claimed, or in some cases never graduated college at all. But when something is on your resume for a few decades and everyone else just assumes it’s correct, it’s easy to see how these situations can occur.

So, aside from quicky background checks or calls into college administration offices, what can HR and the recruiting industry do to streamline this process and avoid embarrassing situations in the future?

Blockchain Tech To The Rescue

You have probably heard about blockchain technology in the past few years. Its most famous use case comes in the form of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, but it’s also a technology that can do almost anything and makes systems infinitely more secure and efficient than our current platforms. It does this through smart contracts and distributed ledgers that make the system quick and almost unhackable.

And since you can store almost anything on the blockchain, one company is using it to fix the recruiting industry by ensuring that any information an employer or recruiter would need to know is available quickly and has been vetted by the proper sources. This group is called EchoLink and they’re looking to take on industry veterans like LinkedIn and Hoovers.

“It’s all but impossible to check the credentials of every user in a traditional web based application.” says Steve Chen, the Founder of EchoLink. “It is well understood that educational background and work history found on online sites are not verified. Most recruiters and employers spend time and resources on additional background checking processes.”

And Steve and his group think that the blockchain can change all of this by vetting work histories and school records on EchoLink and providing recruiters and HR professionals a real snapshot and background on their candidates with just a few clicks.

And while this may seem like a niche industry to target with the blockchain, the flexibility of the tech allows it to be customized for pretty much any use case you can think of. So why not go after a niche industry that is in desperate need of disruption?

Human Centred Being: When Human Centred Design isn’t Enough

The rise of human centred design

If you’re working in any kind of professional organisation, you’ve probably come across human centred design… Or design thinking, or experience design, or co-design, or service design or some other variation of design that your organisation has latched onto as its particular flavour of design related ‘buzz’.

I don’t really mind which one you use. The intent is what is important and in most cases, the intent is the same. Put people at the centre of your business, products, services, experiences and workplace. Design with their needs, motivations and desires in mind. To do that, understand them. This requires you to engage with them - not via quantitative data, but in ways that allow you to go deeper.

When I came across human centred design, back in my days working at Deloitte. I thought I’d discovered the best thing since sliced bread (with lots of butter, we all know bread on its own is no fun). ‘This stuff is amazing!’ I touted to anyone who’d listen. ‘It’s all about people!’ And it was. And it still is. But…

Are we just human centred doing?

Over my years of working in Human Centred Design, something has almost always felt a little off. In many of the projects I have led, the focus has always been on the doing.

Scope the project. Bring the consultant in. Do research with the customers/users/staff/citizens/students/members. Generate insights. Brainstorm ideas. Develop prototypes. Test. Iterate. Repeat.

In my case and context, this has been me ‘the consultant/designer’ coming in and doing the work. Trying to help an organisation take a more human centred approach to fixing or creating something to serve their audience. In other cases, this is often done by an internal team. In rare cases, it can be picked up by anyone in an organisation who has the skills, nous and permission. But in almost all cases, it is targeted at a ‘something’ a particular improvement, innovation or creation.

It is no secret being more human centred and focusing on people’s experience is becoming more and more important for any kind of organisation these days. And while doing human centred ‘stuff’ is definitely a step in the right direction, human centred doing will not shift the fabric of the way an organisation works.

Introducing human centred being

To really transform organisations to be more human centred, we need to change the paradigm from human centred doing, to human centred being.

Human centered being is both a verb and a noun. It can be something we enact, as well as something we become. While we might work towards it through projects, actions and doing, the end-game is not about a ‘thing’ (whether tangible like a product, or intangible like an experience or a service). The end game is how we behave. How we act, connect, interact, respond and so on.

To be human centred, people need to be human centred. Not just when they are thinking about it for a specific goal, but all the time. They need live it, breathe it and embody it.

Encouraging human centred being

There are so many things we need to do to be human centred, but for today, let’s look at some of the things we really need to change. We need to:

  1. Decouple the idea of human centredness from ‘designing’. When it is always attached to the word design, it gives people an excuse not to participate. Design feels like something you need to learn. So if someone doesn’t feel they have the skills or the permission, it can be a licence for them to opt-out.
  2. Start teaching human centredness outside of processes. I’m talking things like the Double Diamond. Human centredness doesn’t just happen over time, or over the course of a project. It can happen in the tiniest of moments, in individual behaviours, across cultures. You can’t always fit these things into a process.
  3. Begin to empower all individuals to tap into their innate capacity for human centredness, don’t just teach tools and methods. I honestly believe being human centred is something we can all access without the need for anything fancy. Tools and methods have their place, but we actually know this stuff deep down. After all, we are human.
  4. Explore and embrace our own humanness. Being human centred is not something you do to someone, it requires a reciprocal relationship. One human understanding and responding to the needs of another human. So to do this, we need to be able to connect to ourselves and others openly. This requires us to be willing to feel, express and tap into our emotions. The good and the bad.

This does not mean we have to stop designing. Human centred design in all its different forms can be an incredible way to create better products and services, better organisations, better societies and a better world. But we can’t do it with design alone. The kind of change we need in our world to really make a meaningful impact requires us to look at how we all show up as humans in life and work every day.

5 Essential Capabilities To Be “FUTURE READY

It’s the year 2050. The cortical modem implanted in Michelle’s brain wakes her gently. She drags her tired body into the bathroom. As she looks at herself in the mirror, it checks her pulse and blood oxidation. The ultrasonic teeth cleaner samples and analyses her saliva while she brushes her teeth. The bathroom scales, built into the floor, checks her weight while the toilet analyses her body composition. All these data are checked against her wearables to analyse and monitor her health on a daily basis. (Adapted from The Telegraph, 21st Oct, 2015)

Michelle prepares for work and puts on her contact lenses. The lenses provide her with real time information that she needs as it draws data from the cloud. It could even show her the morning news if she wanted to!

This is a reality that is within reach in the next 20 to 30 years. As of today, Elon Musk has already co-founded a company called Neuralink, a company with a goal to build computers into our brains by way of “Neura Lace”, a very early stage technology that lay on your brain and bridges it to a computer. Other rapid technological advancements will accelerate health care, transportation, manufacturing as well as energy production. Some possible scenarios (Extracted from the Economist, MEGATECH 2050) will include:

  1. Improvements in computer-aided diagnostic tools helping physicians to diagnose patients quickly
  2. Stem cells pharmaceutical advances resulting in regenerating cells in a lab and returning it back to the body
  3. Algorithms reviewing millions of documents faster and more accurately than humans
  4. Big Data Analysis resulting in rapid transition from computer science into real world scenarios
  5. Macro Scopes collecting and organizing data from billions of connected devices in the world to reveal insights on how people, places, things are connected.
  6. Students learning at their own pace through smart e-textbooks, VR wearables

How do we prepare ourselves for the future? What capabilities will be essential? Here is my take on being future ready. The 5 capabilities will include:

High Adaptability 

With the advent of technology, many of the traditional jobs that are here today will disappear in the future. High adaptability means the ability to take on new roles quickly and to adjust to a fast changing technological environment. Folks with such traits are usually the ones who are prepared to go beyond their functional scope of work and take on new challenges that come along their way. They are not afraid to experiment, try new things, and are adapt at managing complex multi-stakeholder systems. They are also able to mobilize resources and juggle multiple roles at the same time.

Data Driven skills

The ability to understand data analytics and to plough through mountains of data to make sense of everything, will be a higher order capability that surpasses just understanding what is big data. Expert analysis will be the key to success. In expert analysis, you are able to use “Prescriptive Analytics” to pull data for Scenario Planning and Decision Modelling. As Hal Varian, Google's chief economist predicts, “the job of statistician will become the “sexiest” around in the future to come” as the ability to extract wisdom from data will be scarce.

Cognitive Flexibility

This means having the ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functions. An example will include the speed in which someone is able to concentrate on one task and disengage from the previous one completely while thinking about multiple concepts simultaneously. Such a high order skill is necessary to manage digital disruptions that are occurring at a rapid rate. In order to master Cognitive Flexibility, you can try making changes to your daily routines, seek new opportunities and unique experiences that will challenge you to the next level.

High Degrees of Self-Management.

This means being able to maximise results without supervision. Traits would include:

  • Self-confidence - Ability to gain trust and confidence from others
  • Persistence - Relentlessly pursuing goals while overcoming drawbacks
  • Patience - Ability to remain calm and composed in pressing situations
  • Ability to manage time and priorities

Critical Thinking

In critical thinking, you are able to understand the links between ideas and determine the importance and relevance of arguments. A critical thinker also approaches problems in a consistent and systematic way. The three core skills in critical thinking include curiosity, scepticism and humility. A critical thinker is self-guided, self-disciplined and keeps an open mind to acknowledge that their own opinions may be wrong.

We are living in exciting times, as well as in an age of rapid change. These five capabilities will be the key to unlocking your success in the future, and in preparing you for the onslaught of digitalisation. I welcome any other thoughts and ideas you may have. 

Connect with me on LinkedIn and visit jaclynlee.sg for more insights.