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In my group’s topical presentation, I noticed that both Toyota and Tata Motors, while being different from each other in terms of organizational structure, retained aspects of control via a tall structure. Organizations in Asia are typically hierarchical with an emphasis on top-down decision making. This results in a resistance to flat organizational type structures, which typically promote empowerment of the individual, especially in industries that requires organizations to adapt rapidly to the changing external environment (Smith, 2010). Without a relatively flat organizational structure, a company cannot adapt quickly and manage issues effectively. This response papers explores the place of flat organizations in Asian companies, looking into the conflict between flat organizational structures and Asian societies, and the relevance of flat organizations in Asian companies.
Conflict with society
Asian culture values hierarchical structures across all aspects of society, which respects authority and deferment to seniors, while flat type structures encourage empowerment of subordinates. Asian culture is strongly influenced by Confucianism and its values, which instils in individuals’ tradition and social hierarchy (Chinese Cultural Connection, 1987). For instance, in Japan and South Korea, higher management positions are usually held by seniors and superiors are addressed by titles. On the other hand, a flat organizational structure seeks to dismantle and shake this established order in a company, by empowering middle level managers and decentralizing decision making. Therefore, a tension exists, with the top management in Asian companies more inclined to maintain a hierarchical structure. One case study, Toyota, adopted a geographical and product divisional structure in 2013, which empowered regional and business heads to make decisions (O'rien & Takayumi, 2015). Yet, the long-standing hierarchical structure of Toyota remained, requiring all heads to report to the global headquarters in Japan. In an industry which requires adaptability, this resistance may be detrimental as companies may quickly become obsolete. Hence, Asian companies may find it difficult to introduce elements of a flat structure into their organization because of these time-honored values.
Managing the conflict with society
Yet, Asian companies are in a unique position to address this conflict and ease the transition into a flatter organizational structure. The top management in Asian companies are typically family members or close relatives of their founders. For instance, Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, is the great grandson of Toyota’s founder (Toyota, n.d.). This presents an unusual opportunity for strong leadership to shift the culture of the company into a relatively flatter one. As organizational structures seek to serve the goals of a company, established social hierarchies and social norms should not impede the restructuring of a company. Top management of Asian companies can ease this transition by introducing reforms to the company. Lee Kun Hee, son of Samsung Group’s founder and former chairman of Samsung Group, transformed Samsung into an international brand by bringing in foreign employees and adopting an international outlook to doing business (Samsung, n.d.). This demonstrates the role and effectiveness of leadership to shape the cultures and attitudes in Asian companies. Therefore, while societal values may interfere with the introduction of flat structure to Asian companies, having a consolidated power structure allows for a shift in values and beliefs starting from the leaders.
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