In order to determine if a flat organization is more effective than a hierarchical organization, the definitions of both structures must be known. Also, every company which is deciding upon which structure to accept must be researched and have clear and precise goals. Each and every company has different needs, wants, and goals to achieve. Some companies are large, others are small; some employ hundreds of employees, and others maybe only a handful; some earn millions of dollars while others only thousands; some have multiple departments within each organization, while others may have simply a boss and one employee. It is easy to see that the differences from one company to the next may be numerous. However, the common denominator for any successful business or company is the organizational structure which it applies to the work force.
Plain and simple, every business needs organizational structure which determines how the said company will operate. It can include employee communication, scheduling, delegation, payroll, human resources, and every other aspect that makes the company operate on a day to day basis. Two of the most widely accepted structures found in work places around the world are a flat organization and a hierarchical organization.
A flat organization typically includes very thin levels of management where employees have a more involved role in making decisions. The employees in a flat organization have minimal supervision but are held to higher standards and are expected to be more productive and assume more responsibility. This type of structure does not offer employees much desire to move up the chain of command in their workplace because they do not have a clear chain to climb up. The flat structure chain typically includes the employee and the boss or owner. This structure type promotes a faster channel of communication for employees and takes away the need for an expensive middle man to communicate needs. This makes the flat organizations somewhat budget minded. Some consider the flat structure to be more open and friendly because it allows for everyone in the company to be part of the overall outcome of its production.
There are disadvantages to both structures. A flat structure, for example, does not offer a chain of command. Typically, an employee working for a company with a flat structure may be unsure of who to report to if they are unable to make a decision or handle a problem. In a flat structure, work being done may not be as organized because each employee does not have a truly specific role. This allows for each employee to somewhat be a “jack of all trades” rather than being a specialist in the field they are assigned to.
A hierarchical organization has more defined roles, procedures, and lines of communication. Typically, there is a chain of command which needs to be followed. A hierarchical organization can be compared to a totem pole. The least important employees, generally those who earn the least with little responsibility and little input into company decision making, are at the bottom of the pole. The top of the pole includes the owner of the business, CEO, or other major players in the decision making process of the company. In between the low men on the totem pole and the top men is everyone else in order from the least responsible to the most responsible. Each step upwards on the totem pole generally offers higher pay and more responsibility. Having such clear and distinct levels of authority and responsibility in the hierarchical structure promotes clear and distinct lines of communication. Each employee reports to another employee and so on going higher and higher up in the chain of command. Every employee knows the role they are to perform and every issue is handled by each employee that needs to handle each specific issue. This allows for orderly delegation of work, defined roles for every employee involved, and a chain of command which can address problems or ideas appropriately.
As opposed to a flat structure, the hierarchical organizations affords employees something to strive for. There is typically a higher paying position which one can reach until you’re near the top. Since there is a level available for promotion, most employees tend to give their best effort to impress those ahead of them in the chain of command. This promotes a better more determined and hungry employee and provides individuals with a strong work ethic to succeed while weeding out the weaker individuals.
The hierarchical structure has disadvantages, as well. Lines of communication within the hierarchical structure may be crossed and this leads to a slowdown in production and performance. It must be noted that in order to determine which structure is better, the specific company must research to determine which structure fits them best. As history shows, it appears that bigger companies typically tend to lean and favor more heavily towards the hierarchical organization structure simply because more order is needed to keep a larger group of employees in check. While smaller companies with fewer employees tend to accept the flat structure because it is easier to control a handful of employees. Neither structure in theory is a clear winner. Both structures have an upside and a downside. The structure that suits the specific needs of a company tends to be the clear winner for each company.
In summary, both structures have different advantages and disadvantages. Before a company can decide which structure suits them best, the needs of the company must be defined. Also, the size of the company, the number of employees, the type of work being preformed, the company budget, and the company goals must be taken into account before deciding which structure should be used. After all the needs of the company have been clearly defined, only then can the structure be chosen. The structure which is more suitable for their company needs, promotes growth, encourages a happy productive work place, and creates as much revenue as possible will typically be the right choice for each company or business.