The Third Challenge: The Overlooked Power of Horizontal Networks

Horizontal networks can help unleash the power of organizational knoweldge.

Over the past three weeks I have shared a series of posts about my new book: Strategies for Organization Design: Using the Peopletecture Model to Improve Collaboration and Performance.  In the book, I describe the three longstanding challenges that plague organization design:

1.   Design decisions are not linked to human behavior.

2.   Design solutions are focused primarily on the individual.

3.   Design ignores the power of horizontal networks.

The third and final issues is this: Organizations have traditionally been relentless in their pursuit of an ideal design that leads to maximized output, productivity, and stability. The problem is that almost every minute of the day geared toward these pursuits is dedicated to a relatively small percentage of what it takes to get things right.

With recent advancements in the field of network analysis, it is becoming evident that important work is increasingly accomplished collaboratively through networks. But until very recently, the only network we ever paid attention to was hierarchy. Horizontal networks were at-best an afterthought.  

Tradition Is Not All-Encompassing

If you have heard of “spans and layers,” “sticks and boxes,” “dotted and solid lines,” or ever seen an organization chart, you have been exposed to hierarchy. But this is only one type of network among many! And the formal structures underpinning organizational charts do not reflect the vast majority of the knowledge flows within organizations. With the power of data and analytics, we can now make many types of networks visible, not just the traditional vertical hierarchy.

Horizontal Networks and the Other 80 Percent

According to social network theorist Karen Stephenson, this means the hierarchical work network accounts for maybe 20% of knowledge in organizations, so we have, until now, ignored the other 80%. We have been hard at work improving the things that account for at most 20% of organizations’ value and leaving at least 80% to chance. Even if it’s not 80%, even if it’s only 50%, just think of how much power we now have to improve how our organizations are designed if we look at all the networks, not just one.

Once you know your network, you can take action within your network because now there is a road map. You can make new connections between individuals and groups that need to exchange knowledge or translate understanding to move everyone forward with new discoveries or better implementation. This cannot just be left to a few leaders who talk about a collaborative culture. It requires intentionally structuring the horizontal organization, just as we have historically structured the hierarchy.

Maximize Knowledge Flow With the Peopletecture Model

Through my experience advising dozens of CEO’s and hundreds of executives and team leaders on the topic of organization design, I developed the Peopletecture model to resolve these organization design issues. I teach this method in my new book: Strategies for Organization Design: Using the Peopletecture Model to Improve Collaboration and Performance.  In the book, you’ll read about:

  • Accelerating organizational transformation in a data-driven and evidence-based way
  • Making your organization’s work mean and matter more to the people doing it
  • Using insights drawn from network science, human motivation, behavioral economics, and organization theory to drive meaningful collaboration.

I would love to hear from you so please email me at  

Order Strategies for Organization Design Below!

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