I work in IT and I'd like to find a job in a flat organization. I more concerned about the hierarchy of the company than her business. I'm getting tired of pyramid scheme and multiple layers of middle-management (which I'm part of). I try to find a place where people produce and manage by themselves (small independent teams, like start-ups).

I don't really know how to find companies like this. Most of the time, the job offers don't mention this kind of things. Do you have any tips in order to find flat organization? Do you think small businesses (mostly startups), would fit my needs?

  • You can stalk on LinkedIn to get a feel for company structure. But not everyone uses that, of course, so your results may be unreliable. – Duncan Jones Mar 2 '15 at 9:44
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    There's no hard and fast rule, but the smaller a company the less chance of it having big structures: under 10 employees is likely Managing Director + 9 employees, when you get to 20 employees you're more likely to find MD + a few Teams of 3-10 employees with a lead for each – Jon Story Mar 2 '15 at 10:02
  • Most businesses in Northern Europe are like that. Perhaps you can try to find a satellite office of such a company where you live? – Juha Untinen Mar 2 '15 at 10:11
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    @JuhaUntinen Besides the weather, is there anything about life in Northern Europe that is unpleasant? – maple_shaft Mar 2 '15 at 13:36
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    Glassdoor, no?? – user13659 Mar 2 '15 at 14:23

Interviews are a two-way street. They learn about you, and you learn about them. Give or take your willingness to believe glassdoor, you have two opportunities to get information about a possible employer. You might know someone who works there, and you can learn from your interview.

There are two ways to learn from an interview. You can ask questions, and you can draw conclusions from what you see. Asking questions you can figure out for yourself. Observing ... Hierarchical companies will have very different processes than flatter companies. If you are only get to talk to managers, or you the worker-bees that interview you are working from a very tight script, that's some evidence of hierarchy. Or if people refer to management as 'Ms. Foo' instead of 'Grace'. If you talk to a wide range of people who ask you a varied collection of questions, that's evidence of flat. If they ask you questions about how you can contribute to a flat process, well, there you go.

You will also learn from what you see. Where do people sit? Do they hang out together in common areas?

Just about every company that is actively recruiting will make the same set of claims about employee empowerment, yada, yada. So reading the propaganda web site isn't going to teach you very much. Even a company that makes very specific statements about 'flat structure' may be merely reflecting the conceit of the HR department. Also, keep in mind the structure in which all is flat except for one person who is in charge, period. That person may flatter her or himself about running a flat company, when a better term would be 'flattened'.

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  • In relation to the actual question, I think it might be good to expand on "Hierarchical companies will have very different processes than flatter companies". – user17163 Mar 3 '15 at 1:28
  • @Thebluefish how's that? – user13659 Mar 3 '15 at 1:49

Read their website. Because it is not very common and companies usually take pride in separating themselves from others with a flat management style, they probably mention this on their website. I realize not all job advertisements indicate the company when it goes through a recruiter, but you can always ask during the first interview.

Edit: Do some digging during the interview process. They may proclaim they have a flat structure, but ask them to describe their decision making process. Find out if teams have any authority in major areas like hiring, project planning, etc.

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The companies that operate this way are a small minority of the ones out there, but they do tend to advertise this feature prominently in their job postings. So it may simply be a matter of:

  1. Patience, since these jobs will necessarily come up less frequently
  2. Specific search terms, e.g. use Google advanced search e.g. "no management" site:careers.stackoverflow.com and "no hierarchy", "no titles", "flat org chart" etc.
  3. Asking good questions during the interview process to see if they really live up to the hype. A commenter linked to this question which may be helpful: How can I gauge a company's culture before I begin working there?

This question: How do companies with “self-managed” employees make HR decisions? (assuming it is ever answered), might also help with what questions to ask during the interview process.

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