Flat Hierarchies

Seeking a new, more efficient way to approach organizational stricture, some organizations are attempting to break away from traditional hierarchical structures and adopt flat hierarchies. Such an approach to organizational structure can only be successful if the organization is made up of committed and motivated people (Hinterhuber & Krauthammer, 1994). Flat hierarchies demand the utmost from managers and employees (Hinterhuber & Krauthammer, 1994); every position in the organization needs to be filled with the best person available on the market; if hiring inefficient people is the only option, the tasks given to them can not be crucial to the success of the strategy (Hinterhuber & Krauthammer, 1994). This is what makes the concept of ‘floating employees’ as much of a liability for flat hierarchies as they are a benefit.

For the employees, flat hierarchies provide a high degree of autonomy, free thinking and decision making, and the opportunity to shape job descriptions and responsibilities according to strengths and abilities (Valve Corporation, 2012). These organizational structures encourage the natural tendency of managers to have direct contact with a large number of employees, while at the same time creating an atmosphere of autonomy to allow the greatest possible creativity and learning made possible by cutting out hierarchical layers (Hinterhuber & Krauthammer, 1994). Where this becomes a liability is when employees are not provided with the necessary amount of accountability or oversight to insure that their autonomy hasn’t led to isolation. This danger is compounded when promotion does not happen, because flat hierarchies, by nature, do not provide many opportunities for promotion (Hinterhuber & Krauthammer, 1994).

Flat hierarchies have an appeal for some employees, and provide positive operational environments for some organizations. It is simply necessary to fully understand the benefits, and the challenges, that come with adopting a flat hierarchy model.


Chakraborty, R. N., & Mohr, E. (2005). Coordination and Motivation in Flat Hierarchies: The Impact of the Adjudication Culture. Economica, (288), 563.

Hinterhuber, H. H., & Krauthammer, E. (1994). Flat hierarchies and individual job security in times of recession. Journal of Strategic Change, 3(3), 125–131.

Valve Corporation, H. R. (2012). Valve Handbook for New Employees. Bellview, WA: Valve Press.

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