Why have a "flat" structure?

Posted by Yuko Miyawaki on May 15, 2019 2:24:00 PM

Hierarchies are going out of date.

While these structures seem essential to managing large groups of people, the word "hierarchy" itself carries a somewhat negative connotation today. Especially for Millennials who are becoming the central part of the workforce, hierarchy is something that should be deconstructed, and they prefer to work in a more flat, collaborative environment.

What does it mean to have a "flat" structure and what could its benefits be?

A flat structure means that there is less distance between the leadership roles and the employees working for them. In contrast to the traditional hierarchies which may involve multiple ranks such as team leaders, managers, directors, and presidents, flat organisations have less or even none of these distinguished ranks. Instead of employees working for their bosses, there is more emphasis in collaboration among those in equal statuses in a flat structure.

Millennials tend to be mission based and wanting to make an impact right away. For them, climbing up the hierarchical ladder seems like an unnecessary formality. If they have the skills to contribute, why shouldn't they be allowed to just because they are new?

In addition, this article suggests that Millennials are taking a new approach to leadership. Being a leader does not necessarily mean standing in front of people and giving them instructions, but facilitating collaborative work through more transparent communication and feedback among mentors and peers. For this, a flat structure is preferred.

Communication and collaboration can encourage creativity and innovation. Especially at a time when the social context is changing rapidly, incorporating the opinions and skills of the younger generation can be crucial to an organisation's growth. Having a flat structure also facilitates a more rapid transfer of information among the workers. Moreover, non-hierarchical structures can promote a more friendly atmosphere among the workers and create a positive working culture and environment.

While having a flat structure may be easier and ideal in smaller organisations, it may be challenging and even unpractical to implement in larger organisations. This five part post by Forbes on organisational structures explains what flat organisations look like, and give advice on how this could be incorporated into different types of organisations.

Implementing a "flat" structure may not work for everyone, but with the generational change in the workforce, it looks like it's time to change from the traditional hierarchical system.

Topics: millennials, future