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Flat organizational chart leads to quicker growth

When Will Andrew was appointed president of Trimark Sportswear Group on June 1 this year, tinkering with the culture of the Richmond Hill, Ont., company wasn’t exactly his top priority. But he has since envisioned the possible benefits. Here he chronicles the start of the process.

Will Andrew

Will Andrew

From a “spoke and wheel” to a “flat” organization

Early in my career I built a company from my parents’ basement, and what drove me to work endless hours and give up many other aspects of my life was not money or freedom (I certainly didn’t get that). Rather, it was the idea that I was creating something larger, something that mattered to my customers.

But almost all aspects of the company centred around me and, as the company grew, I was the bottleneck; from my perspective (at that time) no one else was able to do what I was doing.

That headspace made it impossible to delegate, and the growth stopped. I am not sure I was aware of it then, but when I hired an operations manager who had skills and experience beyond my own, the sales grew more than 300 per cent within a year. The organization chart went from a hub and spoke, centred on me, to two hubs and a series of spokes. While it was good initially, it eventually hit the next set of limits and growth slowed again.

Within Trimark, we are building a flat organization chart so that information can easily flow up and down or across the company as fast and as easily as possible. It is clear from my experience that the faster information flows, the faster we grow and ultimately create a company of significance, which drives passion and purpose.

As I start to reflect and see the differences more clearly, it has changed my leadership style. Many people have tried to teach me that “you can’t get there with the same leadership style that got you here,” but that is a very difficult lesson to learn. Most leaders revert back to what they know when they hit challenges. I do this from time to time. David Logan states in Tribal Leadership that a company’s growth can stall because its leaders get stuck in this same paradigm; it is not until the team collectively chooses to move together that they can grow.

This is probably the most important lesson we can learn to move our culture forward.

Before we started this series, the management team went to the Disney Institute in Toronto. As I listened to Michael Eisner’s initial address to the Disney staff, I registered the importance of our heritage and history, but also the importance of being innovative if a company is to move forward.

We returned inspired with insights and ideas, and it also changed the way we thought about front-line staff. For many people, a great Disney experience is due, in large part, to the efforts, training and empowerment of front-line staff.

To embrace these ideas we discussed training all staff to work in the call centre, which would educate everyone on our systems to generate new ideas to simplify our processes. Plus everyone will have a greater appreciation for our customers’ needs.

To get this off the ground and show our appreciation for our own front-line staff, our management team decided to man the phones for a few hours one day to enable the customer service team to throw a baby shower for a fellow staff member.

It sounds simple but it had a great impact and created enthusiasm, and ideas moved up and through the company as a result. It also showed customer service agents that they too can contribute, which will make a larger impact as we grow.