This upside down rock-stack is, in my opinion, a perfect symbolic image of an ideal business structure. When properly balanced, this structure captures 3 key elements that create a wonderful culture in which to operate a business. Those elements are: Servant Leadership, First Team, and Empowered Employees.
A typical org chart puts the executive team at the top of the pyramid, suggesting that everyone in the company works underneath the executives; the employees work for the executives.
The best way I can describe Servant Leadership, is to inverse that org chart image from an upside right pyramid, to an upside down pyramid, with the executive team at the bottom of the org chart; wherein, the executives work for the employees. It is a different mindset, and it is so incredibly important.
In this rock-stack image, the bottom rock represents the executive team, working hard to provide balance and bring stability to the rest of the organization. Looking upward, constantly rebalancing, and providing stability – the executives serve as the foundation of the business. The executives work on the business so that everyone else can work in the business. Using the rock-stack symbology, executives embrace Servant Leadership with the understanding that if any part of the business becomes imbalanced or misaligned, the entire stack could tumble.
Middle management is one of the most challenging roles within any company. These role-player leaders get pulled in many directions and are tasked with transforming strategic objectives into successful deliverables that scale across the entire organization. Middle managers are literally “caught in the middle.”
In his book 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni introduces the first team concept by asking a manager: “Who is your team?” Most managers would instinctively answer that their team consists of the employees that report to them within the org chart. Lencioni’s teachings emphasize that there is a key difference, however, between my team and my first team. With a first team mindset, managers recognize that their peers – their first team – are the other managers throughout the company. First team minded managers understand that, collectively, the management team’s primary responsibility is to operate in unison as a first team to provide company-wide stability, thereby serving employees by providing balance across every departmental touchpoint.
In this rock-stack illustration, managers represent the mid-layer of rocks directly supported by the executives (bottom rock). If a manager is too focused on the happenings in its department (silo mentality) and not partnering with other managers (their counterbalance), the stack can become imbalanced and fall. This is the spirit of the first team concept.
The rest of the employees (the top layer of the company) serve customers – both internal and external. They work in the business and perform at their best when provided with a stable and empowered work environment. Any misalignment from the layers underneath (executives and managers) will result in instability – and when instability occurs, the top rocks will be the first to fall. Empowered employees can only perform with confidence if they sense balance amongst the leaders throughout the company.
A traditional control-focused org structure places these employees at the bottom of the pyramid, however, in a Servant Leadership model, Empowered Employees are at the top of the organization – held strong by the structure their leaders provide.
As I continue to grow as an executive and guide others to a common mindset, I’ve found that this rock-stack image provides a powerful symbol of what an ideal business structure looks like. This shift in mindset around Servant Leadership, First Team & Empowered Employees will rebalance and revitalize an otherwise unstable business environment.