Wednesday, February 9, 2011

When Are You Too Big to be Flat?

I attended an industry event last night showcasing the importance of innovation in traditional business settings. 

One of the more interesting presentations referenced the benefits of a “flat management organization” especially as a way to foster creative problem solving and innovation. 

The presentation got me thinking:  when does a company “get too big to be flat”? 

As a marketing professional, I’ve consulted with smaller, innovative companies and have witnessed an evolutionary progression.  

A flat org structure offers needed communication, flexibility and agility.

As the company succeeds and grows, however, and projects become more complex, that approach must shift to a middle ground with new structures, hierarchy, accountability, degree of supervision and processes.

Flexible Structure

Perhaps it’s a mix of the two approaches that serve companies well:  call it “a flexible, fluid structured process”.

There’s no doubt that the organizational structure of a business has to evolve.
With a flat organizational structure, there are few or often no levels of management between the staff and the managers. This means that the staff has decision-making authority, but the downside can be a lack of accountability or structure.
When larger companies have a number of layers between the actual workers and upper management, there is structure and process, but it’s difficult to innovate or change.
Sooner Than Later
So returning to the concept of  a flexible, fluid structured process” – as companies grow there is likely a need for a hierarchy sooner than later.

From my experience, it’s a challenge for a growing organization to maintain flat management methods as the complexity tends to grow (in tasks, projects, sales, staff, etc.) and become more complex. 

The challenge is to actively foster a hybrid approach. 

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