The Flat Hierarchy

Steven Atkinson
Jul 11 · 2 min read

But not really…

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

It appears that the term “Flat Hierarchy” is being thrown around a lot in the tech industry today. It may be used in other industries…but the only experience I have with this term is in tech. But what exactly is it? 🤔

What a Flat Hierarchy is sold as

Imagine you are at an interview with a company, and you are asking questions about the structure of teams. It is now common to hear the following spiel:

We operate in cross-functional teams, but we have a very flat hierarchy. We don’t have a concept of or software engineers.

Okay…that is fine. I suppose one of the advantages of not attaching labels to these roles is that it is convenient when selling software engineering services to clients if you are running a digital agency or consultancy, because you may have a fixed price for .

I think another advantage of this, is that employees may feel a bit more comfortable talking to other engineers without being intimidated because they are a senior. It would just be a conversation between a couple of software engineers 😄

What a Flat Hierarchy really is

Quite often the above quote is followed up with:

Everyone's ideas matter. It doesn’t matter if you have 1, 2, 5, 10 or even 20 years experience. Your opinions and ideas are valuable. Just because you don’t have the experience of someone who may be considered senior, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t challenge the ideas that experienced and seasoned developers have.

So I don’t think that what is being sold is a “Flat Hierarchy”.

What is being sold is:

  • We don’t label software engineers based on experience
  • We ensure there is a safe space to speak out and challenge the ideas of everyone in the team, regardless of experience
Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

So I think perhaps this term should change to better reflect what is actually being marketed to potential employees. And maybe it could be something like…

We operate an Open Discussion and Ideas culture that gives employees the freedom to speak out and challenge ideas. We believe that diversity can be the engine that can find interesting ways to solve problems, and to also develop new and innovative solutions.

I am interested in hearing other peoples thoughts on this. Maybe you currently market a flat hierarchy? Maybe you have removed that term from your recruitment process? Or maybe you vocalise the ideas above in a different way?

So please add some comments 🍻