“When is an Organization Too Flat?” by Brian Dive

We all are aware of the fact that progressive technologies, informational systems and total quality are obligatory conditions that define “the playing ground” for organizations in the global economics. The only important concurrent advantage for any organization, however, is its human resources. Most organizations today tend to cut off the unprofitable jobs, while retaining the best personnel, especially on the top-level management. However, some recent evidence suggests that the definition of “unprofitable” or valueless positions in the company can be quite subjective resulting in erroneous decisions that negatively affect overall organizational performance.

The article “When Is an Organization Too Flat?” written by Brian Dive reveals the problem of insufficient effectiveness of “flattering” the organizations. The author explains that the main reason for elimination of certain management levels within an organization is reduction of costs. For example, from six levels of management between the CEO and the line workers the company reduces that to four. According to Brian Dive, who has spent “3,000 hours…interviewing managers around the world” 1, such decision can lead to unexpectedly negative outcome if prior consideration is not given to the value of every level of management. To achieve this Brian Dive suggests focusing on accountability: “when one is answerable to a higher authority for work, resources, results, or services” 2.

According to Brian Dive, the best solution would be to compare the levels of management and the levels of accountability and see if they match. According to the author, the perfect number of management levels is “the total of accountability levels minus one” 3. The author warns that elimination of essential levels of management can lead to loss of control in the company. 4

Brian Dive views the situation from a conflict perspective. The inevitable part of conflict approach is a change, and that is what the author proposes in order to resolve the problem. Change is a basic feature in society, which results from tension, competition, hostility and disagreements over values and goals. However, change is not a bad phenomenon. Although it does occur because of inequality or battle over valuable resources, it nevertheless constitutes an essential part of progress. Conflict in organizations seems to result in beneficial outcomes for top management, although it does negatively affect the middle management and the lowest level workers. This is where “two classes” are against each other in pursuit of their own interests: for top management it is reducing costs while increasing efficiency; for other workers – retaining their positions within organization. The desirable change for organization is only possible through the conflict, and it’s not a matter of “what”, but rather a matter of “who benefits”.

The elimination of certain levels of management takes place one way or another. It’s no longer a question that companies are turning to quality instead of a quantity of human resources. However, lack of practical experience has resulted in urgent need for such studies. Brian Dive, the author of the above mentioned article “When Is an Organization Too Flat?” drives his conclusions about best way to eliminate valueless management levels based on his practical experience and empirical studies of real cases that took place in resulted in certain outcomes.

The fact that the author doesn’t solely rely on his theoretical assumptions, but provides the examples of real case studies that took place not a long time ago, makes the article truly effective and applicable to the current business environment. However, the author’s perspective is biased to benefit top management rather than regular employees. Therefore, it is presented solely from the interest of an organization, while it leaves the interests of people working in it not important.


  1. Dive, Brian. When is an Organization Too Flat? Across the Board 40(4), pp. 20-24, July/August 2003.
  2. Dive.
  3. Dive.
  4. Dive.

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