VIDEO: Top down not always the best management style

A study of successful companies found a key common characteristic: their founders, operators or managers were not running authoritarian regimes or inflexible systems

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Many farms and family food companies are dominated by a strong patriarch, whose drive and determination place him unchallenged atop a steep pyramid of authority.

But that’s not how the best and most successful food companies act, says an expert on Canada’s food industry growth and export leaders.

“These leaders were very classically non-hierarchical,” said Brynn Winegard, a professor and researcher with Toronto’s Shulich School of Business, who spoke at the Canola Council of Canada’s annual convention March 7.

“Amazingly, all these organizations demonstrated this. That’s not how we typically see organizations operate or structured.”

Winegard delved deeply into companies like Saskatoon’s InfaReady to see what made them tick and what drove their growth in export markets.

She found a key common characteristic was that their founders, operators or managers were not running authoritarian regimes or inflexible systems, but were open to ideas from any part of the organization and willing to run things more loosely than most companies.

Their leaders were “fairly collaborative” and willing to “share power, share lines of reporting…. They were willing to collaborate, especially in the interest of that vision and mission that drove the business forward.”

She found many examples of companies that stopped growing or didn’t want to grow because their leaders didn’t want to loosen the reins of authority. But leaders who ran forward-looking and innovation-based companies generally created environments in which ideas and new ways of doing things could evolve.

People inside the companies needed to feel a “safe space for experimentation,” and that they wouldn’t get in trouble for trying something new or treading on somebody else’s territory.

Winegard said embracing a non-hierarchical management structure “allows de-institutionalization, (a) non-bureaucratic (environment), one where they’re much more entrepreneurial.”

Winegard said farms can be hierarchical, but they can also be ones in which there is the kind of flexibility and openness to new ideas in which growth occurs.

“Power is really not what’s at stake here for the purpose of power,” said Winegard.

“It’s really for the purpose of getting the job done and getting the work done. When everyone plays their own role and feels confident in that dynamic, it’s not non-hierarchical completely, it’s just more of a plateaued organization, where everyone has their role, everyone has to collaborate, everyone pitches in to get it done.”

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