Sometimes, organizations try to appear laid-back so they maintain approachability. Sometimes, though, they're so laid-back that the employees don't know who's doing what.
Though it's bad practice to withhold members' job titles and roles from the public, it's impossible for a business to exist without making clearly-defined jobs within the company. Without organization, an organization cannot function; businesses without a clearly defined hierarchy and job description for each of its members do not exist - because they FAIL.
If a company is trying to appear to the public as though there is no 'corporate hierarchy' because they're concerned this will look less approachable and friendly, the company still needs to make their internal structure clear to its employees. If there's an inconsistency between what an employee understands about the company due to its public presentation versus how the how the company functions (i.e. internal hierarchy), this will lead to confusion.
Inconsistency can create a stressful environment because it's not a learnable system. Inconsistency causes misunderstandings, and causes a psychological absence of security in team members. This stress affects members' ability to work, and therefore hinders the overall business.
I was recently working with an organization as the 'Manager of Marketing and Design.' When I was invited to join, I asked who did what - but I was never given a direct answer. One co-founder was 'in charge of social media,' but in reality she only updated the Facebook page while the co-founder in charge of partnerships ran the social media sites, website, and social campaigns. In fact, the organization's website only mentioned one founding member, with no mention of any other members - until I joined the team and redesigned the site. Though I finally added member names to the site, I was told that no one in the organization wanted to have a job or corporate title because they wanted people to 'run with their ideas.'
"I was always just told to do something and I figured it out," the man I later discovered to be President, stated. This is, he described, how he thought his organization would - could - run. However, his previous companies were able to function with that mentality because he had been given a clearly-defined job title and was aware of his co-workers' jobs. He was then given specific jobs as handed-down by his boss, and he did the job. It was a system built on communication, with clearly-defined hierarchy and work.
At this new organization, I was repeatedly told that all of the co-founders "were on the same level." Then, three months into working with this organization, I was told 'we didn't tell you that one co-founder is actually the organization's President, and the other two are Vice Presidents.' As noted, I was told that "no one really has a title, but we have expertise in certain areas so we should 'run with that'." Then, five months into working with the organization, I was told that I answer to the co-founders and am not on the same level with them, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Five months into my work with the organization, a female co-founder sent a string of requests regarding marketing concerns, to which I responded with my methods and research. We went back-and-forth a few times; the concern was the idea that adding our 'corporate titles' would "separate us in ways from the rest of the community and we don't want that at all" because "we don't want to appear self-serving or disingenuous in any way."
After adding additional information about how social media works, I was told "we appreciate the input but we're going with a certain vibe right now." Well I was confused - who was 'we' if this had been a conversation between the two of us? Was there another dialogue happening that I wasn't not privy to, though I'm Manager of Marketing? Shouldn't I know what this 'vibe' is? And, so, we spoke on the phone.
Though I'd asked multiple times to be given more information about who's doing what in the organization, and to be given context when asked to do something - it still wasn't happening.
Now five months with the organization, I had just discovered that the three co-founders have conversations with one another about decisions that fall under my purview, then one of them would deliver this decision to me - without discussion. There were only four of us working consistently with the organization, three of which were co-founders. Through this phone conversation, I discovered that the three co-founders consider themselves 'we,' while I was a 'fourth-wheel,' so-to-speak.
Oftentimes, people confuse 'we' and 'I' when speaking about their organization, especially if they're one of its leaders. Read more about how 'I' before 'We' works better for your business - and your team.
The female co-founder rudely asked, "Why did you think you were on the same level as us? We're the co-founders. We've always been the 'we,' it's always ever been just us!" The co-founder then stated they never "hired" me, either.
Well this was news to me; their website blog stated when I had joined the organization, and the co-founders had given me the additional title 'Managing Member.' On multiple occasions, I'd been told that I'd receive an intern in the near future, be put on salary and receive health care benefits once the organization became a federal non-profit. As 'Manager of Marketing,' I was told I could 'run with marketing ideas.' (I also, unwillingly, acted as a sounding board for each of the co-founders' rants against one another.)
Well this really drove it home - and with just three wheels, this drive was anything but smooth.
The comments this co-founder made in our last phone conversation were false - or, rather, they were entirely contradictory to aforementioned 'facts.' The inconsistency created by the organization's unclear stance about titles and who-does-what added to the confusion I already felt.
If you want to create a functional business that runs smoothly, the first step is to create a clearly-defined hierarchy and acknowledge your workers. Let them know, in no uncertain terms, if they're in charge - or who's in charge of them. Communication is key to running a successful business, and being consistent with your employees is key to maintaining that success.