Seven Ways to Manage Yourself and Avoid Collaborative Breakdowns in a Horizontal Organization


Team collaboration today relies on a level of coherence among team members. Yet there is a big difference between a flatter organizational structure where horizontal collaboration is central to program progress, and a vertical hierarchy that has multiple management levels in place.

The flatter the organization the more members risk to have lower levels of clarity concerning roles in accountability, influence, persuasion, and interpersonal cooperation. Without tools of clear perception, self awareness, and a sense of life purpose, a member’s inspiration, energy and passion can be dampened by types of perceived fears of disapproval.

We have found the following seven characteristics are important to adapt into your work activities if you are managing in a low, flat, or horizontal org structure. These leadership behaviors are essential for domain experts in charge of delivering ideas, projects, and spin out new programs. Though these seven behavioral skills are effective for anyone at anytime, they are essential notions for anyone working who needs to influence others horizontally as much as vertically in their organizational structure.

Seven Ways to Manage Yourself in a Flat Organization

  1. Be prepared to have your mind changed by someone else. Be open to be changed. It is not always the right time to assert your own viewpoint, judgment, opinion or mandate. You will gain more influence by listening deeply so you can provide information to them with more awareness of how they think. Someone else, if you listen closely, may even bring out a new idea or way of looking at the situation. It’s just the right stretch of thinking and changing with learning that is needed. Attend to the fact that someone else can adjust your view tremendously.
  2. Be persuasive individually. In a matrix power structure, each person has the inherent potential to influence outcomes. Communication and persuasive ability only works in a productive team if you are right too. There’s no point in being wrong with a keen ability to persuade. We all really want to get to the right answer. Channeling that desire to get it right is boosted by the talent of influencing. Get intentional about your influence.
  3. Stretch into and get used to just the right tension. Be like a strong rubber band. The learning curve in most team environments is high. It’s also like a rubber band that needs to be stretched to be most useful, yet not stretched too far, weakened, or broken. We may even feel stretched beyond our limits, or know someone on our team who is. This is good news though, because you have to be stretching just the right amount to grow. Remember your growing pains as a kid? It’s kind of like that, you have to have some aches and pain at times in order to really be learning and growing. Try to channel that pain energy into productive stretches of learning and get used to it.
  4. Learn mature defenses. Mature defenses are marks of maturity that contribute greatly to team resilience. One can use humor to offset a derailing emotional affect. Other forms are intentional optimism, altruism, humility, and empathy/compassion and a reduction of ego influence. Admitting when one is wrong is a really important one. Reduce your defensiveness by gaining more self awareness. Make sure your humor is not an evasion and distraction tactic to hide anger and confusion.
  5. Communicate and over-communicate your organizational vision. Find or develop a simple, useful method of planning as a team. When you achieve greater clarity among members’ individuals will link their current objectives and tactics to your top down strategic vision. Every member needs some significant level of clarity and understanding the organizational strategy is critical.
  6. Follow a clear strategic planning process. This will help members get grounded when they stumble on tactics of execution while also stretching into new learning. Constantly point to how a detail fits inside the large scheme of activity. Give details a high importance and place to sit. Help each team member understand the larger perspective so they can think creatively for solutions.
  7. Create effective self-motivating techniques personal to your needs. You are going to need a lot of self inspired thinking when working on teams in flat organizations, especially when others cannot give that to you. Your intrinsic drives needs to be considered linked to renewal of one’s energy, especially during medium to high ambiguity and uncertainty. If you are able to anchor to your life purpose and find meaning you can re-gain passion and build resilience you need to keep going and stay inspired.

A fun way to test yourself on this list of characteristics that are cultivated on your team, try this. How much do you/your team do each of the 7 points above?

Use the 1 to 5 Likert Scale Key: 1 is lowest, 2.5 is medium, 5 is Highest

Add your total score for all items. If your total score is less than 17.5, then you could use some new tools to calibrate your work flow better and gain more collaborative strength.

Team Collaboration is so much more energy than just cooperating or compromising because during team collaboration, you will continually be required to change, adjust and adapt. You will be pulled to become more transparent and that is uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to most people in every culture at every age. People need tools to do it well. We see a lot of information about multi-generational issues due to how much organizational structures have less management clarity than in former years. A good personal leadership development coaching program can be very useful to help leaders and managers of any age group gain more clarity they need to do their jobs best.

This blog is for those dealing with the types of ambiguity that characterize flatter and horizontal matrix organizations. At Impact Management, Inc. we’ve helped teams with strong and weak management and high and low hierarchy structures. Engaging a leadership development process that explores gains in self awareness effectively and efficiently through coaching is what we do at IMI High Impact Leadership Program.

About the Author:

Jane Hundley, Executive Coach, M.A. Industrial Organizational Psychology (I/O) & Development, President of Impact Management, Inc.

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