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What is a Flat Organization?

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A flat organization has a hierarchical structure with employees concentrated at the bottom layer with a relatively small management structure on top. It is most often used by small companies or firms that employ knowledge workers who don't require much management oversight.

Value

Flat organizations may minimize overhead by assigning a large number of employees to each manager. Flat organizational structures may encourage a culture of cooperation where things are done without need of political power. They may also allow leadership to naturally develop within the group based on an individual's ability to motivate and influence others. Leadership based on social abilities may have advantages over leadership based on authority. For example, such leaders are typically highly regarded by peers allowing them to exert greater influence.

Drawbacks

Taller hierarchical structures may enable a more sophisticated business strategy to be executed as middle managers have enough authority to run with strategic missions. Large organizations that attempt to run with flat structures often find that their industry requires a middle structure to manage a large number of strategies and operational demands.

Example

An information security consulting firm is mostly security consultants who work at client sites. Employees are typically self-managing types who don't need much hand-holding. As such, a single working level manager can manage 50-60 employees. The firm's strategy is reasonably straightforward and a small executive team manages it. The company has 12 executives, 10 managers and close to 600 employees.
Overview: Flat Organization
Type
Definition
A hierarchical organization with a small top, minimal or nonexistent middle and large bottom.
Related Concepts

Organizational Structure

This is the complete list of articles we have written about organizational structure.
Back Office
Bureaucracy
Business Unit
Centralization
Company Departments
Contingency Theory
Cost Center
Cost Centers
Decision Authority
Direct Reports
Division Of Labor
Flat Organization
Formal Authority
Front Office
Functional Areas
Functional Structure
Indirect Reports
Job Grades
Job Levels
Line Of Business
Management Authority
Management Structure
Matrix Management
Middle Management
Middle Office
Offices
Operations
Organization Design
Organizational Attributes
Organizational Planning
Organizations
Profit Centers
Reporting Lines
Restructuring
Self-Organization
Structure
Teams
Top Down
Work Responsibilities
Work Roles
Workforce
Working Level
Workplace
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