Meta is Flattening the Organization: A Bold Move or Misguided Attempt?

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree May 06, 2023

Several weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg announced a significant reorganization aiming to 'flatten' the organization. At first, this sounds like a move we would applaud. You can wake us up in the middle of the night for a healthy bit of skepticism against middle management. However... there's one big red flag here.

Flattening the organization

Zuckerberg announced the major reorganization to be part of Meta’s so-called 'Year of Efficiency'. In a nutshell? Laying off 10,000 people to put a bigger smile on shareholders' faces.

Of course, Zuckerberg's PR team puts it slightly more politically correct. Let's take a look.

The art of flattening the organization

"It’s well-understood that every layer of a hierarchy adds latency and risk aversion in information flow and decision-making. Every manager typically reviews work and polishes off some rough edges before sending it further up the chain."

Pretty well put, actually.

"In our Year of Efficiency, we will make our organization flatter by removing multiple layers of management. As part of this, we will ask many managers to become individual contributors."

As you might know, this is something you regularly come across here on the Corporate Rebels blog. Unfortunately, however, one important thing seems to have been overlooked.

Progress or regress? The true motives behind organizational changes

In our 7 years of research into progressive organizations, we've encountered many different reasons companies embark on a journey to dismantle traditional management.

Looking at the trends, these reasons can be roughly divided into two categories:

1. A belief in people: The human-centric approach

Most of the successful transformations we have researched are grounded in the belief that organizations need to ditch traditional management and replace it with a more human perspective on work.

Motivations that fall into this category:

  • "People are held back by today's system, we need to liberate them from it"
  • "We want to bring more humanity into the workplace"
  • "Liberating people from the burden of bureaucracy allows us to unleash passion"
  • "We believe in trust, not control"

There are many more, but you get the idea.

2. Cutting costs: The hidden agenda

Then, on the other side of the spectrum, there are a bunch of other reasons why companies embark on 'flattening the org' initiatives. While they are often disguised in more eloquent language, it doesn't take too much brain power to figure out what it's actually about:

  • "We need to cut costs"
  • "Our shareholders want higher returns"
  • "We need to be more efficient to keep up with competition"

We've seen so many 'flattening' efforts fail because of this 'cost-cutting' reasoning. They're mostly just not the right reasons to build a system that requires trust, transparency, and autonomy to work well.

One of the members of the Corporate Rebels Academy summed it up nicely: "Sounds like the flatter org is an excuse to do some layoffs cause the numbers are not looking good. I mean, they are all doing the same as they adjust their projections. Mark just dropped the "flat" word in there."

The pitfalls of pursuing flatter organizations for the wrong reasons

We've seen many transformations where leaders are eager to boost efficiency, aim their cost-cutting canon at middle managers, and expect to leverage the full benefits of a 'flat organization'. But that's just not how it works.

Simply increasing the span of control for managers is a recipe for disaster. That's not how you create a flourishing flat organization.

Instead, it's important to organize around freedom, trust, accountability, and autonomy. It's about providing the framework for people to self-organize within. And that requires a whole lot more than just firing a bunch of middle managers.

A looming disaster: What Meta's reorganization could mean for progressive companies

But what makes me way more sad than a potential disaster at Meta, is that this might hurt the entire movement of companies exploring flatter and more progressive structures.

Why? Because I can already picture the headlines when Meta comes back to their shortsighted efficiency plot:

““Meta tried a flatter org structure, but it didn't work. Flat orgs suck!””

The bottom line: Pursuing organizational change for the right reasons

All in all, if it's just an undertaking to squeeze more productivity out of people, it's mostly better to not pursue such initiatives at all.

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Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
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