Flat organizational structure - who wouldn't like that. But what does it really mean? Well, probably many teams who work in parallel - as independently as possible. Like separate micro-enterprises with clear ownership and well-defined product to look for.

But does such a model work at scale? How many teams can there be? Ten? Hundred? Thousand? Let's imagine we have 100 - can they effectively cooperate? Implement a coherent company-wide strategy? Optimize operations by re-use and common practices?

Probably some sort of governance is required. Let's put it straight - MANAGERS are needed. But according to good practices, a manager can effectively work with up to 20 people (some would even say - more like 10). So we would need managers of managers, and managers of managers of managers, and ... In other words: to effectively scale an organization, we need to stack managerial levels (the pyramid-style), but ... is it really EFFECTIVE?

(for the sake of brevity, I'll call the Managers of Level X - MLXes)

  1. while teams' or ICs' responsibility is clear, MLXses' accountability sounds far vaguer and is overlapping - e.g. if your team is the level Nth in the corporate hierarchy, you have N-1 levels of managers above you; ALL of them accountable (in a bigger/smaller part) for YOUR work - how does that even sound?
  2. obviously, each level adds inertia and distortion in communication (because the actual work happens at the very bottom) - in both ways (top-down and bottom-up)
  3. additionally, MLXs of each level won't let you forget how important they are - they feel obliged to provide all the layers beneath with separate communication, dedicated meetings ("All Hands", ...), reporting, etc.; you know - a typical corporate justification of just being there

This model is really bad.
This structure is everything but flat.


Even if the folks at the very bottom (the teams who do the ACTUAL WORK) enjoy a lot of freedom, all the other layers provide very little actual value. They are basically guardians guarding other guardians. They primarily generate a need for more bureaucracy while fulfilling it (at different levels, of course) simultaneously.

But is there a better (more effective) model? I believe so.

Instead of stacking the levels of managers, we should stack ... teams. What does it mean?

  • each level should be accountable for a product/service/area on a corresponding level of abstraction
  • each level should have a clear accountability/responsibility - as a team (not a single MLX)
  • N+1 level team should provide more basic (elemental/fundamental) services for the N level team
  • accountabilities/responsibilities should cascade down exactly like the (properly defined) OKRs do - the N+1 level gets an objective from the level N, BUT decides how to implement it (by specifying key results that contribute to the objective - the team has to be in as much control over them as possible!)

With such a model:

  • each level's (/team's) role would be far less artificial (in other words - less ambiguous)
  • each level would have a well-bounded autonomy (the strategic goal is given, the tactics are up to you)
  • the organization (& its products) would be easily comprehensible at many different abstraction (/detail) levels
  • there would be less space for politicking, fewer SPoFs, and the promotions (traversing up the hierarchy) would be far more natural
  • the structure would be (on practical terms) much more flat because the teams at various levels would in fact work IN PARALLEL

How does it sound? Does such an approach resonate with you? Can you imagine your organization/product managed in parallel on multiple levels of abstraction (instead of having numerous levels of governance and control over the lowest tier of the organization)? Or maybe you've encountered a similar model in practice? All the opinions and comments are appreciated (ofc).