Working Horizontally (agile) & understanding Horizontal Management (work/team structures) and its issues

In line with the content on SDLC and ALM, along with today’s needs and desires for teams to be more flat.. or vertically structured: My next few posts are going to be about working horizontally, or horizontal management (work/teams/structures), or. let me throw in a buzz word .. “working in a more agile manner” 🙂

Horizontal management is: about working collaboratively across organization boundaries. There are no hard and fast rules to horizontal management it is an art more than a science. This type of management is pervasive, occurring at entry level in an organization. It involves bringing people from diverse organizational and occupational backgrounds together into teams and networks with a common purpose and shared culture. Group thinking is encouraged, but this can be seen as a risk because it cuts lines of accountability and authority and pursuing consensus at the expense of serving the public interest.  [*]

In a nutshell, working as a team/group is working horizontally. One might think that working as a team is an easy task as we all have done so at some point in time, but this is not the case when teamwork is the bases that can make or break the success of an initiative, especially when used in complex processes like software engineering and process improvement and we are in a teamwork state for long periods of time. There are various dynamics that come into play when working as a team, for example some might not get along or trust other members, some might not be motivated or good team players and others might forget their individual responsibilities. Working as a team requires that everyone get an equal part so that everyone has an equal interest in working together, towards a common goal, build long term relationships and be equally motivated for the long run. An interesting relationship between horizontal structures and software development is that working in a horizontal structure is viewed as an art, which is the same way that software development was viewed as before it was realized that it needs to be a manageable process, our focus will also be to help make horizontal management a manageable process.

Some of the issues that horizontal structures bring with them that need to be addressed are:

  • Working with others as a team slows down fast paced, ready for action members
  • Members are sometimes not motivated enough to work as a team, which damages team effort and progress
  • Members usually trust their own judgment and find it hard to put that trust in the hands of others
  • Each member may have their own vision and own motive, maybe a goal they want to accomplish as part of their job function and have their own priorities.
  • With everyone on the same level, who provides direction and leadership? Who is held responsible?
  • People need to be assured that their time and effort is resulting in progress.
To understand and address these issues, we need to have a look at the various “dimensions of horizontal management”

Key Dimensions of horizontal management

Working as a team rather than working as an individual does bring with it a few issues that need to be addressed:

  • When we work alone it is easier for us to switch gears and start making progress because we don’t have to wait for others to be ready, progress begins when oneself is ready, in a team progress begins when “everyone is ready”.
  • When we work alone we know what our goal/vision is, we know what we want and know how we are going to get there if we start straying away its really easy to pull ourselves back; When we work as a team, its possible that not everyone knows that the common goal is, they might have their own goals or own ideas of how things need to be and what takes priority over the other, when working as a team its important to make progress by combining all efforts towards a “shared goal/vision”.
  • Working alone means that you are responsible and accountable, you need to get the work done and you need to manage your own time, when working as a team, who does what gets blurred this is why a “support structure” must be in place (depending on the requirements) so that vertical roles and responsibilities are not forgotten.
  • When you work alone, since you are in control (and responsible) of the progress, it is easier to maintain your momentum, you know how much progress you have made, you know how successful you have been and if needed can make changes to help maintain momentum; Teamwork introduces attributes that may effect momentum such as meetings that go on forever, goals that seem unrealistic or far fetched, not knowing if all the effort in working as a team is paying off or not and so on. When working as a team, we must be able to “maintain momentum” on a daily bases.

Hence there are four key dimensions for horizontal management that revolve around horizontal structures and keep the horizontal structure/movement intact: [*]

  1. Mobilizing team and networks: Ready for action
  2. Developing shared framework: Working for the same goals
  3. Building support structures: To keep Horizontal team in check with Vertical roles
  4. Maintaining momentum: Keep progress moving

Each section would detail a significant amount of content so I will break it up into 4 posts to cover this topic….. eventually.

[*] = Hopkins, M. Coture, C. Moore, E. Canadian Centre for Management Development, 2001. Lessons learnt from Leading Horizontal Projects


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