Horizontal organizational structure is a form of managing workers in which decision-making is spread among workers along horizontal lines, as opposed to a hierarchical or pyramidal management structure. The philosophy behind this form of management is that a collaborative model improves morale, productivity and creativity. It is a method often used in organizations that are heavily focused on product development or core business processes. Cross-functional work teams, where workers with expertise in different areas work together on one project, are a common feature of a horizontal organizational structure.
The philosophy of a more level, egalitarian work team may be adopted in organizations that value collaboration and encourage individual initiative among workers. In a vertical structure, often decisions made at the top filter down to lower level workers. These workers are then usually expected to implement those decisions without objection.
Sometimes workers may not understand the reasoning behind a particular decision. An employee may resent the change because he or she does not see the need for it. In comparison, within a horizontal organizational structure, those who manage the company typically want to encourage free thinking, individual initiative, and collaboration among staff. Creativity is valued more than uniformity within the organization.
Vertical structures are the more common management systems in business, yet horizontal structure is often used within development teams. The reason for this is its suitability for generating free-flowing thinking and creativity. This is one of the most common reasons why a company will use a horizontal organizational structure. An atmosphere that engenders creativity is different from one that seeks to instill obedience at all times.
Cross-functional teams often generate a synergy that enhances a company's creative capital. Such collaborative teams may work together on projects requiring a high level of personal initiative and creativity. No one member of the team is the boss of the other members. They all have the same level of authority within the company's hierarchical structure.
An example to illustrate how a horizontal organizational structure may operate would be an advertising agency that has been commissioned to develop a marketing campaign for a large business. Together, the team would generate a basic concept to anchor the advertising campaign in the consumer's mind. One team member might work on the wording, and still another on the graphic appeal. A fourth member may devise the timeline for rolling out the advertising campaign and coordinating its launch with the media.
No one member of the team would typically be in a position to command other team members, but all team members would be accountable to a team manager. A company may have many horizontal teams operating at a given time. In a small company, however, each team member may work collaboratively with the company manager.