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Create Flat and Empowered Organizations

Edwin Miller, CEO continues the series to Google's success by sharing how to create flat and empowered organizations.


The second Google principle is to create flat and empowered organizations that help bring all of the other Google principles to life. Google has embraced and understands this principle in that they strive to recruit the brightest talent and then empower them to make decisions – essentially, working as the CEOs of their business within Google. They drive a flat structure (smaller teams) where everyone can be creative and lead. Everyone at some point is expected to create an idea or offering that is leveraged by the Google machine. They work in teams, but they are associates, not a just a hierarchy.


Giving employees a sense of empowerment and a creative voice is a huge motivating approach to gain the most engagement and productivity from each person within your business. This makes everyone a true knowledge worker striving to create the next big thing or add real value to the product or offering they are working on with their team. The fewer layers in an organization lessens the noise in the communication. The more empowered an employee feels, the more they will achieve. Bill Gates said this about building flat organizations: “here at Microsoft we eliminate politics by giving everybody the same message and maintain a flat organization in which all issues are discussed openly.”


As leaders of organizations, we all must insist on clear and direct communication, prevent competing missions or objectives, eliminate rivalry between different parts of the organization and empower teams to do innovate while owning and being accountable for the outcomes of their work.


There are many advantages to a flat organizational structure:
  • It allows expense and performance management at a higher level of granularity.
  • It lifts the participation and improves connected knowledge of the employees.
  • It improves the speed of communication and coordination within the firm.
  • Fewer levels of management encourage an easier decision-making process among employees.


There are also disadvantages that must be managed:
  • Flat organizations can lead to having a lack of specialists.
  • Many times, unless well organized, job functions may not be well understood.
  • Confusion in the reporting structure and decision making can be grey.
  • As companies grow, they must continue to break into smaller organizations for clarity.


One of the largest issues I have seen around flat organizational structures, as mentioned in the list above, is around the lack of clear reporting structure. It is difficult for a person to have more than one manager. That stated, during our career, all of us have likely seen or experienced working for more than one person at the same time. While creating a flat and empowered organization, we must focus on driving the good outcomes while removing the downsides. Flat and empowered organizations tend to create great cultures and solid business outcomes for all involved, if managed appropriately. If you do decide to move to a flat and empowered organization, ensure transparency and strong lines of communication are in place. Have weekly check-in meetings to ensure the objectives of the business are aligned and being executed.

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