Should you cascade OKRs?

by Jenny Bowes | May 31, 2021

time icon 3 mins

In a word – no! But rather than leaving this blog there, let me explain why we don’t think you should be cascading your OKRs. 

It’s assumed that your OKR map must match your business structure. This reinforces a traditional cascade of objectives, which will be most likely set at the top and then cascaded down through your functions and teams. The only coordination which takes place is at the top and that’s based on the upwards flow of information which can be slow and become diluted with each level it passes through.

At this point we need to be clear – nowhere is it stated that OKRs must match your organisational structure, in fact, it is often discouraged. We find that this is often ingrained thinking, especially within larger organisations. 

As you know we’re massive advocates of cross-functional working at TBG. The best way to promote true cross-functional working is to construct your OKRs to focus on initiatives that require a team made up of people from multiple functions. 

What are cascading top-down OKRs and bottom-up OKRs?

If you’ve heard of the concept of cascading OKRs, it’s likely that you’ve also heard of top-down and bottom-up OKRs. But what are they and should you be using them?

Essentially, a top-down OKR is one that is set from the top i.e. senior-level, corporate objectives; and this then flows down to departments, teams and individuals. Non-managerial, non-senior staff don’t get any input into these OKRs and are mainly working towards achieving the company’s wider objectives.

On the other hand, bottom-up OKRs are set by teams and individuals for themselves, or these groups contribute towards higher-level corporate objectives.

Key implications of cascading OKRS 

1. Having goals set for you is less motivational than if you are involved in the creation of them 

When cascading OKRs you are simply setting goals for your people without involving them in the process, or pulling on their individual skills, which could be extremely beneficial to help you move towards your goal. 

2. Has repercussions up every chain of your OKRs 

By cascading OKRs, your teams know that everything they do affects another Objective and therefore there is stress around the repercussions that their projects may cause. 

3. This leads to a reduction in risk-taking, experimentation and innovation 

By putting more stress on the implications of a team’s OKR success, you are likely to stifle innovation as your teams will want to make sure they don’t take any risks or potentially fail with some of their initiatives. 

4. Owners of parent objectives are more likely to micro-manage 

Because OKRs are being cascaded, and a manager’s OKRs is directly affected by what the team below them does, they are much more likely to micro-manage and potentially stifle innovation and growth ideas. 

5. Doesn’t encourage communication or collaboration

Because OKRs are cascaded down the organisation this encourages a reduction in collaboration as teams are generally formed at the seniority level. To get the most out of the OKR framework we also advocate working cross-functionally, bringing together the right people rather than the people that are just on that seniority level. 

Benefits of taking a network over hierarchy approach 

1. Teams and individuals are excited about the opportunity to shine when taking ownership of an objective or key result 

By allowing teams to create their own organisational goals and work on initiatives that will help move the needle towards these goals, you are offering them the opportunity to shine and provide a purpose. 

2. Teams and individuals are happier to take accountability for a goal when they have had input into its creation 

If you simply dictate goals to your teams you are a lot less likely to see buy-in from your teams. Ultimately you want your teams to shine and your organisation to move towards growth.

3. Communication and cross-functionally is encouraged 

Because you’re setting OKRs using a network approach you get the right people working on projects and initiatives rather than the people that are simply in the team that has been assigned to an objective. 

We think we’ve made the case for a network approach to setting OKRs. However, our team is always on hand if you have questions and want to chat with a giant about your OKR implementation. Book a call with the team and let’s kick start your OKR journey. 

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