Larry Page, the Google’s co-founder, has long been obsessed with keeping Google culture of small company. This is necessary in Page’s mind for innovation, fast decision-making, and no bureaucracy. In 2001, when Google grew to 400 people, Page removed all middle managers as he saw them as needless complexity and friction. Page learned a lesson the hard way. With more than hundred engineers reporting to an executive, he became overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused. Without those middle managers, it was impossible for engineers to do their work and for executives to grasp and influence what happened at Google.
The lesson Page learned was that “a hierarchy can be too flat and middle managers are often a necessary complexity.” The real challenge is to weave such complexity that does as much good and as little harm as possible. With Google, growth means that a healthy hierarchy with middle managers was necessary for defeating bureaucracy.
For more information on how to scale up successfully, how to fight bureaucracy, refer to Hayagreeva Rao and Robert I. Sutton in Scaling Up Excellence.