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Corporate culture

Organizational structure: what you did not know about a flat structure

Ivana Markovic
Jul 29, 2019 ∙ 4 mins
People working on their technological devices in an office

At Osedea, we have always encouraged all our team members to have a voice, to propose new ideas and to rally other team members behind those ideas. Informally we were close to a flat structure, but some of us had a title and we were not being consistent all the way. More companies are moving towards flat structures including Zappos, Decathlon Canada, Buffer, Tesla and Verve. This inspired us to fully jump in and challenge ourselves.

Once we decided to throw away management levels and titles, and open the door to leadership and contributions from all team members, we received a lot of questions and in some cases pushback. But after almost a year in, there have been great results. We are seeing more and more initiatives being brought to life, a higher engagement and higher ownership from our team. Here are some myths we want busted around being in a flat structure, based on our experience so far.

Myth #1 — My career will not progress

If you are a high achiever, this is what you are told about successful career progress. You start your career at an entry-level job. Two years later you are promoted, and not long after you start managing people. 5–10 years into your career you reach the Director level. Someday down the line you expect to be an executive level VP or C-suite. We believe this model is flawed.

Assuming your career has progressed because you have reached a certain title or because on paper “you manage people” does not make sense. A career should be about your accomplishments, your results and successes, and not about a title or the number of direct reports you have.

One question we can ask ourselves: is there a professional order that decides what competencies are required to be a VP or a Director? Not really. I’ve seen VP positions without direct reports and others that manage an organization of thousands of individuals. Is it fair to compare?

Whether your organization has titles or formal structures is not the point. But we wanted to argue against expectations that you need a more hierarchical structure to progress your career. I can give you a few concrete examples:

  1. One of our developers is in charge of building all the training plans for new hires. He has no official title for it, but on this competence he is easily on par with other developers that have had multiple years of team lead experience and are very advanced in their career.
  2. I have professional training in Brand Management, but in the past two years, I’ve led our efforts in terms of Talent and Culture Management. Our results in this field in such a short time compete with people that have been progressing in their careers for more than a decade.

Not having a title, in our experience, does not mean your career is not progressing. It can mean you can embrace even more opportunities and with motivation, passion and hard work, you reach a high competence level in a field where it takes years (maybe decades) to accomplish in a more traditional hierarchical structure.

Myth #2 — No one’s in charge and it’s a chaos

One thing we often hear when we say we have a flat structure “It must be chaos with no one in charge” or “How does anything get done?”But we argue that it is almost the opposite. Because there are no formal hierarchies, we have organized into teams to ensure things are moving forward.

For instance, we have self-managed teams that are created based on company needs, interests and potential. These teams work on a wide range of priorities, ensuring work gets done and things move forward. People naturally take leadership.

At Osedea, we have teams for all our main priorities: recruitment, diversity, team activities, operating standards and office redesign, for example. Things do get done and we have our results to prove it: we have been doubling in size every two years, our sales are constantly on a growing trend, we are in the top 9% of companies in Officevibe in terms of employee engagement.

Myth #3 — There is no mentorship, coaching or feedback because I don’t have a manager

Another fear from team members that have not experienced or worked in a flat structure is that they believe they will not get mentorship or coaching and no feedback. It is true that without having a manager with whom you have weekly 1:1s these things are not natural. But it doesn't not mean that if you have a manager, you will get quality feedback and great coaching.

We believe that any team member can provide coaching, mentorship and feedback to other team members, based on their experience. We provide many platforms to provide feedback and coach team members to be better at providing feedback. When teams work in projects, there is a ton of coaching and feedback being provided.

But again don’t take our word for it. We have solid results to show for this: we are in the 10% top companies in terms of feedback in Officevibe and 5% in terms of recognition.

In conclusion, don’t assume that this type of structure will work for all individuals or all organizations. We just aim to be as transparent as possible when team members join our team and when we collaborate with the outside world, so they understand how we operate and why we do so. And more importantly, we wanted to show that a company can function great in this structure. Will this be forever our direction? Only time will tell. But for now we are extremely proud of the results behind our move to flat structure. If you are interested in this concept and want to learn more about it, our blog offers a variety of articles that can satisfy your need, such as How we run the show at OSEDEA (without any bosses).