With the future of work affecting work models, organizational structures should also a consideration. Organizations require organizational structure to establish how its processes occur. This organizational structure and definition is the cornerstone of a company, as it defines processes from job descriptions to internal flows. While there’s no one-size-fits-all model for organizational structure, it’s up to companies to determine which model best fits their needs, culture, and mission.
A flat organizational structure is just one of the 7 different types of organizational structures. According to The Business Professor, “A flat organizational structure means that an organization has few (if any) levels of management between the workforce and the highest-level managers. The absence of middle managers places more authority, such as decision-making functions, at the worker level.” Whereas the traditional organizational structure features a pyramid org chart with C-suite executives at the top and entry-level employees at the bottom, a flat structure dismantles all of this.
While a “flat” structure may raise confusion, questions, and disapproval, it’s more beneficial than you may have envisioned. Whether you’re a job seeker looking to join a company with a flat hierarchy or considering implementing such a structure for your organization, here are the benefits of a flat hierarchy:
- An open work culture
While we may try to divest from letting our job titles define our identity, work titles and identity are often societally intertwined. Typical small talk often includes, “What do you do?”, to which our job titles become a vantage point of conversation.
In a flat organization where hierarchy is less of a focal point, one’s ideas and responsibilities become more emphasized without the natural authority that may come with a job title. For early career workers, their job title may hinder their confidence, as they believe their opinions would be quickly minimized based on their experience. It goes both ways, as alternatively, senior executives may experience imposter syndrome and feel like a ‘fraud’. In fact, around 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome in their life. Another study by KPMG found that “75% of executive women report having personally experienced imposter syndrome in their career.” When we allow our titles to dictate our sense of career worth, we may lose sight of what’s really important: our work and ideas.
A flat hierarchy promotes an open work culture by easing the focus off of job titles. Instead, the focus turns to an employee’s overall performance and ideas. While job titles may encompass one’s experience, they aren’t always an accurate reflection of one’s career journey. Having an open work culture where employees feel empowered to voice their opinions means paving way for new ideas that go against the grain.
- Quick decision making
It’s simple: the more processes there are to solidify a decision, the longer it takes. Thinking thoroughly through a decision is always necessary, but in a fast-paced environment and evolving world, sometimes we aren’t granted as much time as we require. A flat hierarchy encourages quick decision-making by granting stakeholders the opportunity to act quickly yet make informed decisions, without any excessive red tape.
A process that’s too extensive may dissuade employees from enacting any change or voicing ideas. That’s why it’s important to have processes that maintain a balance between logical and effective.
Back at the office? An office spanning multiple floors can make it difficult to meet and work with other employees if floors are department-specific. After all, office plans are usually strategic in this way. While department-specific floors make sense for general working, they can be isolating and deter cross-collaboration, creating a bubble that keeps us in the dark about what’s going on in the company.
The future of work is about collaboration and a flat hierarchy promotes cross-collaboration by removing the focus on job titles. Take away job titles and all of a sudden, your manager’s manager seems more approachable.
- Ability to switch between roles
While a “flat hierarchy” may seem as if there will be little to no room for job growth, it’s actually quite the opposite. A flat organizational structure still offers the same career mobility, but with responsibilities and less of a focus on titles. Not only does a flat organizational structure encourage cross-collaboration, but it encourages switching between roles if a more fitting role opens up.
With a traditional organizational structure, it may be difficult to transition between roles because of a lack of quantitative experience. However, with a flat organizational structure where there is generally less of a focus on job titles, it’s no longer solely on years of experience, but on the holistic application of the applicant. Soft skills such as strategic thinking may become more prioritized.
While every organizational structure has its pros and cons, determining the best organizational structure for you and your organization is a subjective answer. What may work for a larger organization may not work for a smaller organization and vice versa. A flat organization is an embodiment of the future of work, as it promotes collaboration, prioritizes employees, and is subversive.