For more than a decade, I had led my physiotherapy business, the Back In Motion Health Group, with a traditional vertical organisational structure.
Our model was unintentionally suffocating talented people through hierarchy and self-limiting position descriptions.
Job titles and lines of reporting became discriminatory. Strategy and decisions were mostly formulated in a linear, top-down fashion. Conversations happened behind closed doors. Without noticing it, elitism and class divisions crept into our workplace.
People were being artificially designated into executive, management and support strata. Influence was driven more by seniority and position, than by intelligence and merit. Creativity was dying.
What we had might have been normal, but it certainly wasn’t optimal. We were about a $25 million business with 40 locations — but we wanted to grow.
So, I shook things up.
As part of a comprehensive leadership restructure, I got rid of job titles — as they were getting in the way of innovation, freedom, and empowerment.
They were often ambiguous, incomplete, and self-limiting. Titles put people into boxes, and I wanted them to work and think outside of their box.
Here’s five reasons why I don’t regret getting rid of job titles:
1. It facilitated a champion team, rather than a team of champions
Titled heroes did not equate to superior team performance. Superstars and rainmakers had previously been elevated above the importance of the collective. But a true team is a remarkable phenomenon worth fighting for, and came when we placed the best interests of the team above individuals.
2. It encouraged our people to over-lead and under-manage
Our people started to lead when they were naturally the right person to do so. In my experience, no one has ever been criticised for leading too much, but often we are warned about the perils of micro-managing others from positions of authority and title. The sentiment is simple: people love it when you lead more, and manage less. The latter is relied upon as a proxy for the former, and is a very poor substitute.
3. It encouraged peer accountability
This is the holy grail of team culture. Our staff became more willing to give and receive instruction, correction, and encouragement in ways that made upper levels of management and oversight increasingly redundant. The best of me brought out the best in you, irrespective of our positions. When titles disappeared, there was much less inhibition to hold each other to account.
4. It promoted collaboration and free speech
Titles and ego got in the way of true collaboration. Our workplaces should have no secrets; no surprises; no politics; no hype; no selfish posturing; and no empty promises. Everybody on the team should work together for the common good. Don’t separate, isolate, fragment, or silo your valuable knowledge, skills, and efforts. Doing so will only dilute and diminish the team’s effectiveness.
For collaboration to really flow, we encouraged free speech. People became more likely to listen, communicate, and learn without prejudice and with an open mind when their title became irrelevant. Respectful debate emerged as a natural consequence, with everyone having an opportunity to voice their views. People felt welcome to speak up at the right time, with the right colleagues, in the right way…and didn’t have to worry about what title they carried.
5. It built ‘trustparency’ and safety
When we deconstructed titles and unnecessary hierarchy in our workplace, we promoted greater freedom for people to flourish in. Every person began to act in a more trustworthy manner, on a want-to-know basis, and made others feel safe in the way they led and sought influence.
Getting rid of job titles initiated a leadership revolution in the Back In Motion Health Group. We discovered an authentic and scalable way to give each team member the freedom to do what they love and excel at it. Today, we stand having achieved brand presence in Australia and New Zealand, generate revenues of close to $50 million in annual client services, and now officially host over 110 locations. If I had known this was going to be the result, I would have de-titled our organisation years earlier.
Jason T. Smith is the founder and CEO of the Back In Motion Health Group, the Iceberg Leadership Institute and the SOS Health Foundation. In his new book, Outside-in Downside-Up Leadership, Jason shares how they found the sweet spot between authentic collaboration and the holy grail of peer accountability in their workplace. Find out more here.
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