Flat teams appear in many forms. They are named as matrix teams, temporary cross-functional project teams, Z-teams, pods, and leadership teams. At the extreme edges, they constitute the core organizing logic of the organizational structure in self-managed organizations using frameworks like Holacracy.
Regardless of organizational type, what makes these teams and their challenges unique is the absence of clear command-and-control or hierarchy of authority within the group. Flat teams are teams in which the group as a whole is held accountable for their performance and cannot rely on one member of the group to provide instructions or fiat for the group to follow.
Many companies default to thinking about teams as if they are machines to which we can apply rules, processes, and roles as inputs and expect predictable and successful outputs. We hunker down to answer the pressing questions: What roles will be represented? For what will the team be accountable? How we will evaluate the team’s performance? How will the team communicate its progress and request resources from the organization? In essence, we define the rules of engagement.