What Is Hierarchy Culture?

December 02, 2022

what is hierarchy culture

Organizational culture can be a tricky thing to understand. It's like the unwritten rules of a society, but instead of being set by the government, it's set by the company you work for.

Everyone knows that hierarchies exist in most organizations, but what exactly is hierarchy culture?

In this article, we'll delve into the world of hierarchy culture and explore what it means to have one in your workplace and how to overcome its negative effects.

What is hierarchy culture?

Hierarchy culture is a type of corporate culture where decisions are made from the top down and there is a strict structure in place. It is based on an organizational chart that emphasizes certain positions over others, with clear lines of authority, communication and accountability.

Hierarchy culture has been around for centuries and is still popular among many organizations today that prioritize traditional roles and processes.

A hierarchy culture relies on a formal chain of command where decisions are delegated or passed along from one level to another, often with minimal input from lower-level employees.

This system helps maintain order and efficiency by ensuring tasks get completed quickly and according to plan. It also allows senior staff to oversee operations while remaining in control of the entire organization.

However, it can be difficult for those at the bottom of the ladder who may feel powerless or frustrated due to their limited ability to make decisions or contribute their ideas.

Key characteristics of hierarchy culture


Organizations around the world rely on a hierarchical culture to maintain their operations. Hierarchy cultures are based on a structure of authority and power, with each level of management having more influence than the one beneath it.

The following are some key characteristics associated with hierarchy culture:

1. Emphasis on job titles, roles and levels within the organization

Hierarchy cultures are typically organized into different departments or divisions, each with its own specific set of duties and responsibilities. Each layer in the organization has its own authority level and decision making power over those below them in the chain of command.

2. Strong emphasis on order and rules

In this type of culture, employees need to adhere to predetermined guidelines and protocols in order to ensure that operations run smoothly. Clear roles and responsibilities will be assigned across different levels of management in order to provide further clarity and organization within the workplace.

3. Top-down flow of information and communication

The higher levels of management are the source of all information and directives. Decisions made at the top level are expected to be followed without any input from those further down in the ranks. Communication, therefore, takes place between superiors and subordinates only with minimal interaction between colleagues outside their own team or department.

4. Focus on individual achievement over team effort

Hierarchy cultures often reward individual performance rather than collective action or collaboration between teams or departments. In this environment, you are more likely to be rewarded for working harder and putting in extra hours.

5. Rigidity

Hierarchy culture is generally more formal, and therefore time is a valuable commodity. Hierarchy cultures tend to have strict hours and schedules, and less flexibility in terms of working from home or other flexible work arrangements.

Benefits of hierarchy culture

This type of structure offers many benefits for businesses, including:

A sense of security: it gives employees a sense of security as they know exactly where their position lies within the organization and that they are valued accordingly. This can result in improved employee morale which helps increase productivity and efficiency among staff members.

Improved communication: hierarchy culture promotes clear communication within an organization by giving each individual their own role and responsibilities which makes it easier for them to understand what is expected from them.

Increased productivity: it helps to ensure that tasks are completed efficiently and on time. By designating certain individuals with specific responsibilities, everyone knows exactly what they should be doing and when it needs to be done. This level of organization also allows employees to specialize in certain areas, resulting in a higher quality output overall.

Clear decision making: since everyone’s roles are clearly defined, hierarchy culture provides clarity around decision making processes so there’s no confusion on who has the authority to make decisions or take action on certain matters.

Accountability: with a clear chain of command established in a hierarchy culture there is better clarity around accountability for results achieved.

Disadvantages of hierarchy culture

While these types of cultures can provide a sense of stability and order, there are several potential disadvantages to consider

Limited creativity and innovation: this happens because employees are expected to strictly adhere to the rules and regulations established by their superiors without questioning them or deviating from them. As a result, they may not be able to think outside the box or suggest new solutions to problems that arise within the company.

A sense of stagnation: the rigidness of a hierarchy structure often leads to a sense of stagnation within the organization, with limited chances for advancement or recognition due to predetermined positions.

Feelings of inequality and unfairness: hierarchy culture reinforces power dynamics between people within the organization, resulting in potential feelings of inequality and unfairness. This can lead to feelings of alienation among employees, who may feel their contributions are not valued or appreciated by upper management.

Communication barriers: it can create communication barriers between different levels within the organization, as those at the top may be less likely to consult with lower-level staff when making decisions.

Slow processes: decisions need to be approved by those higher up on the corporate ladder, leading to time delays for projects and initiatives.

Examples of Hierarchical Culture


Hierarchical cultures can be found in a variety of organizations, including the military, large corporations and schools.

Military organizations

When it comes to military organizations, there is a distinct hierarchical culture. This hierarchy is based on authority and responsibility, with higher-ranked individuals having more decision making power in the organization.

Within this hierarchical structure, the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined for each individual. For instance, an officer will have different duties than an enlisted person would; while a platoon leader will often be issued orders from their commanding officer in order to carry out specific tasks.

Large corporations

The hierarchical culture of large corporations is one that has been around for decades, and it's still prevalent in many organizations today. It's a culture that places more value on certain individuals, teams, and departments than others and creates a clear chain of command throughout the organization.

In decision-making processes, those higher up in the hierarchy often have more influence over which direction the company will go. This means that lower-level employees may not have as much input when it comes to important issues or initiatives.

Additionally, when it comes to recognizing employees for their accomplishments or talents, those higher up in the hierarchy will typically receive more attention or favoritism than those at lower levels.


Schools are places of learning and growth that have a hierarchical culture to maintain order and structure. This type of culture encourages respect for authority figures, such as teachers and administrators.

For instance, in the classroom, teachers are expected to be respected by students for their knowledge and experience. When it comes to decision making on issues related to curriculum or disciplinary action, teachers often have more power than students do.

Furthermore, administrators may also determine who has access to certain resources within the school building such as after-school activities or special classes available only to certain grade levels.

How to overcome the negative effects of hierarchy culture

When it comes to hierarchy, it can have both positive and negative effects on the workplace. If left unchecked, the negative impacts of hierarchy can lead to a toxic work environment. Fortunately, there are steps organizations can take to mitigate these consequences.

1. Create an open environment

Organizations should strive for a workplace where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and giving feedback. Open communication between management and employees will help ensure that any issues or concerns with the hierarchy are addressed promptly and appropriately.

2. Set clear expectations

Create clear expectations for each employee so everyone knows what is expected from them and what goals they should strive towards. This way, employees can feel empowered and in control of their own work rather than feeling like they are being controlled.

3. Encourage inclusion

Hierarchy in the workplace often leads to situations where some individuals feel excluded or undervalued based on their position or rank within the organization. Encouraging inclusion is key to creating an atmosphere where everyone feels respected regardless of their level in the organization.

4. Acknowledge employees’ achievements

Employee recognition not only improves workspace culture but also encourages innovation and creativity within an organization. Acknowledging achievements in front of others can inspire workers to continue striving toward success while simultaneously encouraging others around them to do the same.

5. Promote teamwork

Teamwork creates an atmosphere of camaraderie that encourages employees to work harder and be more creative when it comes to problem solving.

A sense of purpose is created when people are working toward something bigger than themselves, which can lead to greater job satisfaction and better performance over time.

Also, individual workers are able to benefit from the collective knowledge of the team, allowing them to learn new skills and gain confidence in their abilities within their role.

Final thoughts

Hierarchy has been a feature of traditional organizational culture since the days of industrialization. It can be seen in all walks of life, from the military to corporate work environments.

This system serves to ensure that every person knows what their role is within the larger organization.

While hierarchy culture can be a useful tool in the workplace, it can also create a challenging work environment. However, by creating an open dialogue between management and employees, providing feedback and recognition, embracing diversity, and promoting collaboration, organizations can create a positive hierarchy culture that benefits all employees.

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