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Breaking Down Hierarchies

How breaking hierarchies in workplaces may lead to more gratitude filled environments.

Photo of Justine Pollack
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The idea that I have is based on the fact that almost every work environment has some kind of hierarchy. Hierarchies can result in people not taking the time to learn about what people in differently ranked positions do. As a result, it's easy for employees in lower ranked positions to not feel as though they matter to the overall workplace and organization's mission. In addition, it's easy to underestimate and not appreciate what other people do if you are minimally exposed to them. Perhaps a solution would be a workplace wide meeting every so often in which all the different employees would get together and meet each other. The purpose would be to ensure that everybody understands what other people do and how it relates to their own job. The meeting could be fun and more of a party by, for example, including food. Such an event would need to be catered to the specific type of job, number of people employed, and overall mission. For example, in a large workplace there could fewer large events, or more frequent smaller events within specific departments. Feeling connected socially would be beneficial in general, but also would help people see the overall product and purpose of their position within the larger picture. In addition, it would force people who have more senior positions to understand and appreciate how people in positions under them build into the overall product of the organization. 

Idea Title

Breaking the Hierarchy

How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

If one isn't exposed to the people who are contributing to their work environment or product, it's easy to 1) take them for granted and 2) not full appreciate the fact that a real person is putting in work. Taking the chance to get to know people who are working around you and whose work benefits the overall purpose of a workplace would likely create a more appreciative culture. It's easy in typical hierarchical workplaces for people in higher ranks to simply expect the work from people in lower ranks, but not take the time to remember that a real person put in the work. Creating events in which people are expected to get to know everyone would help break such a social barrier.

Who are you innovating for?

The place I work, the sexual assault prevention and awareness center, is a fairly small group of people. Despite this, I have not gotten the chance to really get to know the main staff and other students who work there. We're all working to prevent sexual and gender based violence on campus, however, all have somewhat different roles. Taking the time to really get to know each other and understanding how different jobs contribute to the overall mission would create a more grateful environment.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

This type of integration effort would likely be most effective in smaller environments. For example, in smaller non profits, as in such an environment it's easier for everyone to see that people are contributing differently to the same overall meaningful purpose.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

The idea would not be too difficult to implement. I could start by just designing an event, finding space to have the event, and planning food for the event. It would likely be most difficult to figure out the logistical issues.

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

I think the main obstacle is people not really seeing the importance in getting to know each other. People have busy schedules and may not show up if they don't see it as important. I think the main way to overcome such an issue is by incentivizing coming in by either making it required or by making it a fun event to come to.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

First I will ask the people that I do know in the organization about if and how they think implementing a more integrated environment will be helpful. I will get their input about how to design an event that they think will be helpful in pushing a more connected workplace.

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

The first steps I would take would be to do a little more research on my specific workplace. For example, figuring out how many people really work there. I would then put in some time asking people what kind of event they would find most productive. I would then attempt a smaller and less expensive prototypical version and see if it goes well.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

My idea emerged from both group brainstorming within my university and also thinking about my own work environment and what improvements I think could be made.

Tell us about yourself

I'm a university of Michigan student. Within my organization I am a peer led support group leader for survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual harassment.

Where are you / your team located?

Ann Arbor, Michigan

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Justine,

Great to see you in the Ideas Phase of the Challenge! I'm curious about what would incentivize people to participate in this initiative?

Also, is there any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

Please update your post within the next hour! The Ideas Phase closes today at 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time.

Excited to learn more!