The Myth of the Flat Organisational Structure

Organisation structure seems to be what you change when you can’t , or won’t, change anything else in the business. I’ve often watched with interest when organisations claim that they will flatten their organisational structure and remove layers of management in order to improve efficiency, and drive the bottom line.

Of course, it sounds attractive to some degree, but I believe that there is a myth about the efficacy of the flat organisational structure. Decision making might speed up, and there might be less stove-piping and inter-departmental competition. Right. You might also win Lotto.

But it doesn’t work. Or it doesn’t work for very long. And it doesn’t work simply because of the way in which humans are hard-wired to work. We trade off the need to belong to a group (getting along) with our desire to get more security (getting ahead). More security typically means more control over resources, and that inevitably means more decision making power. So, humans create power structure or hierarchy where one doesn’t exist. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and the culture of hierarchy is old; and it is locked into our primitive brain.

If the concept of flatter structures had so much going for it, it would have been embraced by military culture hundreds (if not thousands) of years ago. Dumb ideas tend not to stick around in the military, and especially so when a military is involved in hostilities. Winning is everything, and any advantage over the competition is normally quickly grasped.

This short article sums it up well, and is worth a read.