Many companies operate on a clearly defined hierarchy, but a tiered structure can often lead to adverse side effects like hyper-competitiveness among teammates, demoralization of employees, and an us-versus-them mindset. My firm and other highly successful commercial real estate companies have begun to see the value in a flat company structure, which offers an attractive alternative with several unique benefits.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of a flat company structure is that it empowers the next generation of up-and-coming superstars to achieve their own greatness sooner. Rather than feeling demeaned and “less than” for the first 10 or 15 years of their careers, they are valued and treated as integral parts of the team from the beginning.
For example, a new broker on our team who is an industrial specialist found it very helpful in her first few weeks to sit down with key members of the firm and learn some of their best practices. This approach differs from traditional firms, where veteran brokers don’t typically share their wisdom and experience with the next generation out of fear that the new hires will ultimately become their competitors. Conversely, expertise and advice can flow openly in a collaborative environment. New hires know they can lean on anyone in the office for guidance and support. This is an invaluable gift, especially for someone new to the industry.
This egalitarian, supportive behavior is unique in our field. Newcomers who try to become real estate brokers often give up and drop out because this is such a difficult business and they get so little support as they try to climb the ladder. When senior people take the junior members under their wings and teach them how to be successful, firms are better equipped to succeed and be as effective as possible.
A Unified Team
I'm not a big fan of personal titles. In a real estate office, we each have our role, but we don’t need to rely on egocentric titles. This supports the “one team” concept and reminds us that we are equal — everyone’s contribution is important. From the receptionist, who gives critical first impressions, to the brokers or advisors who have been there the longest, all team members are essential. Everyone should work together, coach one another and treat one another as equals.
When a new broker joins your team, include them on sizable prospective client projects. If appropriate, give them an important speaking portion and a significant part of the project to pull together. When you win the client, be intentional about giving the new broker a lot of credit and celebrating them. That intentional process gives new team members increased motivation to excel.
We view our firm as an elite group that works collaboratively as an organization, expects a lot from each member and is exceptionally capable — similar to the attitude of Navy SEALs. If you met a SEAL, you would not ask, “What rank are you?” You would just say, “Wow, you are a SEAL!” The membership is all you need.
As a servant leader, your role is to serve each and every member of the team and help everyone to attain absolute success. That should be the goal of every other team member as well.
This flat structure has been used by other highly successful companies to great effect. For example, Google utilizes the flat structure by encouraging employees to make decisions without having to seek permission from “upper” levels of management. This technique allows employees to feel they are personally responsible for the decisions they make, which empowers them to make decisions carefully. They feel the management team trusts them, and they live up to that confidence by performing at their best.
We encourage similar practices at Keyser, with the goal of making our members feel they are being treated as fully capable parts of the team at all times. To be very clear, a flat organizational structure does not mean the company gives handouts, but everyone does get the help they need and receives fair compensation for the value they bring.
Operating as one unified team with everyone contributing generously to one another’s success is how firms can create an equal playing field. Everyone ends up making more money than they would have made on their own, and they have a much better experience doing it.
If your company suffers from the pitfalls of a hierarchical structure, consider whether a flat structure would work for you, too.
As featured on Forbes Real Estate Council