Flat vs Hierarchical: which company structure makes your life easier?

Rita Ohai Ohaedoghasi article on organisational structure

There are only a few things Africans exalt over and above position and power. Well, there’s actually just one thing the bulk of them give greater premium to than the afore-mentioned; and that thing is money.

However, while the quest for financial satisfaction may play a central role in directing the focus of our actions, the propensity to conform rational thought to accepting the reality that to exercise one’s authority over and above others is far from uncommon.

According to May Ohaedoghasi, a pharmacist and behavioural psychologists, this attitude often stems from our ancestral ties to kingdoms, fiefdoms and subjective followership; even at the denigration of societally acceptable values and principles.

In her opinion, “A lot of people are driven by the need to be comfortable and for them comfort means being in a position where they can use the money they have acquired to win power over the ones who have been placed under their authority.”

While this might be the case in the traditional setting, its mirror image is clearly reflected in the corporate sector where the lacuna in communication as well as the associative rank and file between boss and employees are largely evident.

Although some experts have cited this inability to pass along information effectively between parties as one of the prime reasons for the near breakdown in profitability and productivity within the public and private sector, others have narrowed it down to the types of organizational structures in place — namely flat and hierarchical.

Rita Ohai’s analogy on organisational structure

Based on research carried out at the University of California, Cameron Anderson states that “systems which are designed with steeper levels of interaction” as is seen in the case of most companies with the hierarchical configuration generally exhibit “higher levels of performance, cohesion, intra-group co-ordination and lower levels of conflict” than those with lesser asymmetries in members’ power, status and influence.

Even though the aforementioned might have a true ring to it, experience has shown that flat structures are equally as reliable for small organizations at the start-up level as they are for multifaceted corporations with varied dynamics or a larger workforce; depending on how it is implemented.

As some advocate the utilization of clearly defined hierarchy in the separation of authority along the totem pole of an establishment, others weigh in on how the hierarchical system can affect the productivity level of employees and general output of the companies. Yinka Olugbugia principal management trainer at Team Building International posits, “[That type of arrangement] makes the organization more fluid and cuts out a lot of the bureaucracies that we see particularly in government where there is a lot of movement and passing of the bulk before decisions are made.

“But in a flat structure,” he said, “people take better responsibility for their actions and make personal choices faster for the benefit of the [institution]. Here the speed is the most attractive attribute.”

Addressing reasons why more global companies are adopting this system in slight contrast with their Nigerian counterparts who still favour formats in operation at the civil service, Olugbugia further said, “People find it very hard to change and one of the things I always tell people is that systems are not supposed to control people rather people are to initiate systems. If any organization refuses to change in this present age, then they will become extinct and not be able to meet the demands they are required to meet.”

Some of the ways in which individual operational functionalities can be maximized by institutions for optimum yield vary but the principles with which they operate with are simple.

For managerial structures that lean towards designing flat systems of interaction between head of departments and their co-workers, enforcing the need for higher levels of creativity, clearly defining the roles of personnel as well as critically analyzing the vast amount of information in free flow as a result of the proximity between boss and staff is of the essence.

As for companies that tilt towards the hierarchical set-up, having heads of department develop their human relations skills and actively engage subordinates in close quarters on a regular basis so as to build sustainable channels of communication between parties is vital.

**This article was first published during my time as Assistant Editor, Sunday at BusinessDay Newspapers on August, 17, 2014 here: https://businessday.ng/life/article/flat-vs-hierarchical-which-company-structure-makes-your-life-easier/

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Rita Ohai Ohaedoghasi

Super intelligent tech executive living life on her terms and helping people along the way