Flat Organization – Definition

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Flat Organization Structure Definition

A flat organizational structure means that an organization has few (if any) levels of management between the workforce and the highest-level managers. The absence of middle managers places more authority, such as decision-making functions, at the worker level.

A Little More on What is a Flat Organization Structure

A company’s organizational structure concerns the authority, control, and reporting structure for employees. For example, in a hierarchical structure, workers report to a front-line manager. These front-line managers report to middle managers. These managers report to top-level managers. This structure generally creates a pyramid to represent authority, control, and communication.

In a flat organizational structure, there are few levels of management. Thus workers will report directly to higher-level managers. This means that the role of middle-managers is shared between the workers and the higher-level managers. It generally means greater autonomy and authority for the worker. It can also be more efficient for the organization to not have various levels of bureaucracy. This structure can serve to motivate employees who are more autonomous. The flat structure generally employs collaborative work teams as a method of employee oversight.

For many organizations, the flat organizational structure is not optimal. This is particularly true for larger organizations. The flat structure can cause a lack of clarity on who is responsible and accountable for specific activities. It can also be difficult for outsiders to determine who is the appropriate point of contact for any communication. Without managers who have final decision-making authority, employees may conflict on specific decisions. Competitive individuals may attempt to establish greater power or more authority than their peers.

Academic Research on Flat Organization Structure

The effects of “tall” versus “flat” organization structures on managerial job satisfaction, Porter, L. W., & LAWLER, III, E. E. (1964). Personnel Psychology, 17(2), 135-148. In a questionnaire administered, a sample of managers in organizations with different size and also flatness of organizational structure gave reports of perceived satisfaction of certain job needs. In small organizations, a flat structure was linked with higher satisfaction and a tall structure with large organizations although no over-all superiority was found for type of structure. Satisfaction and self-actualization needs were derived from a flat organization. Also, a tall structure satisfaction of security needs. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Relationships of tall and flat organization structures to the satisfactions of foreign managers, Porter, L. W., & Siegel, J. (1965). Personnel Psychology, 18(4), 379-392. In 13 foreign countries, the number of supervisory levels in organizations was compared with responses from 11. Satisfaction based on need and questions based on a Maslow-type classification of needs were asked. The outcome shows that flat organization structures were linked with greater managerial need satisfaction for organizations having less than 5000 employees. But for organizations with over 5000 employees, this trend was not obtained. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Mass customization in flat organization: The mediating role of supply chain planning and corporation coordination, Yinan, Q., Tang, M., & Zhang, M. (2014). Journal of applied research and technology, 12(2), 171-181. This theory proposes by the information processing theory that organizational flatness is antecedence to the mass customization ability and the supply chain. Also, corporation and planning coordination mediate the relationship between organizational flatness and mass customization ability. The supply chain planning and corporate coordination directly improve the MCC (Mass Customization Capability). The importance of centralized management of value chain decisions and the sharing of knowledge for MCC is an emphasis based on our result.

Leadership and managerial success in tall and flat organization structures, Ghiselli, E. E., & Siegel, J. P. (1972). Personnel Psychology, 25(4), 617-624. Have a successful firm is one of the key strategies to make necessary changes in the firm to have a flat organization (Porter & Siegel, 1965; Garzo Jr. & Yanouzas, 1969; Goh, 1998). Based on Ghiselli and Siegel (1972)’s theory, a firm’s structure is associated with the nature of the spread of the units and positions within it. Also, this affects the nature of the relationships among those units and positions. Hence, a flat organization has an organizational structure with few or no levels of middle management between executive and employee.

The new leadership construct: What happens when a flat organization builds a tall tower?, Meisel, S. I., & Fearon, D. S. (1999). Journal of Management Education, 23(2), 180-189. The Block Tower Building Game came on board some 25 years ago; when this was designed, it was to illustrate the management skill of directing subordinates in precise how to “stack up.” Now, there are teams achieving “toweringly” higher results. This paper explains areas of the new organizational realities and shows a tower building exercise that was redesigned for the 1990s. This paper also works on Modification which reflects new thinking about effective organizations. It further illustrates new ways of interpreting the emergent organizational dynamics.

Criticism of” Effects of Flat and Tall Organization Structure”, Hummon, N. P. (1970). Administrative Science Quarterly, 230-234. This paper was based on a business-oriented simulation and involved four organizations each of 15 members. The authors stated that the organizations functioned under open communication although the workload enforced certain communication lines along hierarchical order.

Design and use of a flat structure in a multiproject research organization, Kurstedt Jr, H. A., Gardner, E. J., & Hindman Jr, T. B. (1991). International Journal of Project Management, 9(4), 210-215. The organization, Management Systems Laboratories of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the USA back in 1986, was transformed from a standard matrix organization to a flat organization. Although a negative influence was created by flat organizations. After a year, there was a change in the flat organization, and this was made a standard hierarchy. Around this period – before, during and after the flat organization, there was significant growth experienced by MSL. This paper accounts for an experience with a flat organization. The reason the organization was changed, things that worked and did not work, lessons from experience and what was recommended by the authors for research purpose.

Study on flat organization structure of the large construction projects based on BIM [J], XU, Y. Q., & LIU, X. (2013). Journal of Engineering Management, 1, 011. Recently, different industries have developed digitization and information technology. As a digitization and information technology, BIM is the most advanced technology. In China, it has both been known and also been applied in the related engineering construction industry. Analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of the structure of organization of the existing huge construction projects, and combining BIM technology with the flat organization structure been widely used in construction projects, in addition analyzing their mutual affection, this results into the conclusion that flat organization structure with a combination of BIM technology can enhance speed up and the promotion of the digitization project management in China.




On Structuring the Work Team Characterized by Flat Organization and Multi-Function——An Exploration of Management Model for New Campus [J], Qi, Y. (2002). Journal of Nanjing University of Chemical Technology, 2, 016. In the past ten years, Multi-campus model, which has revolutionalized in the reform of Chinese high education, is a new system by which modern colleges and universities can be run. Efficient management system has been a challenge with With scattered campuses. Increasing administrative efficiency of employees is the key factor of management. Flat organization and multi-function characterized by Work team play an important role in improving efficiency and enthusiasm.

Research of FlatOrganization and Its Efficiency [J], Xue-bing, P. E. N. G. (2006). Journal of Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, 2, 020. The flat organization can be agile and also environment-suitable as a result of diminishing medium floor. A flat organization is, therefore, more efficient than an upright organization. Sometimes, flat-organization will become disabled. This paper focuses on the factors of flat organizations coming, its efficiency and also proposes some advice that can increase the efficiency of flat-organization.

FLAT ORGANIZATION AND FLEXIBLE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGEMENT [J], Jiang, L. I. A. N. G., & Yan, L. I. U. (2005). Northern Economy and Trade, 5, 011. Economy pervades all walks of life with the rapid development of information technology. Also, knowledge increases at an amazing speed, with the knowledge styled business management is always first affected. Flat organization structure, decentralized work, and flexible management pattern have become the three major trends of knowledge-styled management. Human resources management limit has turned to fuzziness from clearness, and also from openness to closeness. This paper attempts, Given the organization structure transformation, to analyze how the flexible human resources management has operated within the flat organization structure.

Discussion on Flat Organization Structure [J], Yu-meng, W., & Jin-xin, T. (2003). Logistics Management, 1, 014. The characters and merits of a flat organization structure are analyzed by This paper. Also, it states recommendations and analyzes the problems that should follow closely during the progress.



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