Is Flatter Better?

It has often been thought that a flatter organization is better because of, among other things, efficiency advantages and more evenly distributed power. However, in a blog post titled Networks and the Myth that Flatter Organizations are Better, CV Harquail argues that this is not the case, pointing out that “power is rarely redistributed in any kind of egalitarian fashion” and that most organizational power is still retained at the top levels. This calls on the ideas presented by Scott and Davis about formal organization and informal organization.

In a flatter organization, there are less levels of hierarchy but still the same amount of decision making power. How is this power distributed? If we were to look at it on an org chart from a “formal” perspective, it would make sense that the power from the removed levels be distributed evenly to those above and below them in the chart. However, as CV points out, this is not the case and often those lower on the chart do not receive the additional power. This idea refers to the “informal” organization, as it describes the prevailing culture within the organization.

I found this struggle between the formal and informal to be interesting because it highlights the importance of an organization’s culture as the catalyst for change. Simply putting in place a new org chart will not make the organization flatter. There has to be a desire among management to actually make the organization flat by shifting some decision making power and making employee tasks more autonomous.


5 Responses

  1. The key question is as you say: once you change the roles and relationships of the formal organization, how does decision-making change? What are the mechanisms of allocating resources and accountability in ANY organization regardless of the number of levels.

    That very question also begs another question: what do we mean by power in organizations? At least two types come to mind: control over resources and influence. Control over resources will often be a matter of the formal organization. However, influence, which is the capacity to change others’ opinions and induce more involvement, is NOT solely a function of formal role and formalization.

  2. Hey- add some tags here Heartless Capitalist! Your post looks naked without them.

  3. How can flatter organizations be applied to real life? In my other class with Professor Comas, we discussed how terrorist organizations structure their heirarchy. Before I give you the analysis, how do you think this idea could apply to the situation? Is their structure making it harder to break the groups apart?

    • I’m no expert on terrorist organizations, but I did find this:

      Based on that chart and explanation, the power centers lie in committees, thus aiding in organizational resiliency. There is not one decision maker so if one guy is taken out, there are still others at the same organizational level to continue the operation.

  4. Add tags to this post!!!!!

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