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The Vertical And Horizontal Dimensions


“A person is smart, people are stupid.” – Agent K (Men in Black)

I’m forever fascinated by how large groups of bright and well-meaning individuals often behave so dysfunctionally as a “whole“. How can that be? It’s because the individual “parts” of an organization don’t determine the behavior of the whole. It’s the part-to-part interactions enabled by, and (more importantly) disabled by, the structure of an organization that determines system behavior. By default, hierarchically structured orgs suppress collaborative communications in the horizontal dimension while catalyzing top down command and control communications in the vertical dimension.

Cmds And Silence

In the vertical dimension, the fact that bosses get to unconditionally decide on how to divvy out tasks and rewards to their “subordinates” below ensures that the dweebs in the lower tiers will do whatever the boss wants them to do with little, if any, frictional blowback. In the horizontal dimension, crucial information can be withheld and collaborative communication suppressed because of peer-to-peer competition for the limited number of coveted slots available upstairs in the ever narrowing pyramid.

  1. Dick Danjin
    April 27, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Richard,another perspective on heir achy “In Praise of Heirachy ” HBR find on lion by Elliott Jacques.

  2. April 28, 2014 at 5:43 am

    Interesting. Hierarchy does have some redeeming qualities (http://wp.me/psQTe-6V8 ), but for the most part, I don’t agree with Mr. Jacques. The communication problems of hierarchy get worse with increasing size. Thanks.

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