The Horizontal World of Work

 In Change management, Coaching, Culture, Digital Transformation, Leadership

Traditional ways of working were set in play more than 100 years ago on a factory floor. Org charts, budget planning and Gantt charts were all products of an era in which organisations strived to improve productivity. The norm was to split the thinking from the doing: management planned what to do (the thinking) and workers did it. Our world of work flourished under rules, processes, compliance and governance, with information, control and approval flowing in a vertical way – from top to bottom. 

Work is now more ‘horizontal’, driven by teams finding solutions to problems that don’t have a history. We’re sharing information and looking for ways to amplify diverse voices, as information, control and approval can no longer run vertically. 

But we’ve lived with those old ways of control for so long that we’ve become addicted to them. We’ve formed habits and patterns based on what we did before. Bureaucracy runs through our subconscious core. So how do we let go of such deeply embedded management ways?


New practices and new ways of thinking

There are new practices to learn and new ways of thinking needed. But where to start? As psychologists we know frameworks help order thinking. So, at Making Change Happen, we believe that focusing on the following nine key areas is a pretty good start to change behaviours at work. 


Leadership: Resetting our mental muscles about how we think and feel about work

  1. Mindsets
    We need to help leaders change how they think about their roles. Helping them switch from the vertical model of leadership to a more horizontal style of authenticity, empowerment and trust is key. That’s because how our leaders treat people shapes how they’ll behave. 
  2. Purpose
    Purpose is about how an organisation orients and steers itself. Organisations are doing a lot of work on this at the moment, which is great. But they need to turn their good intentions into actions that their employees recognise as genuinely authentic. Because when you get that connection between employees and organisational purpose, engagement rockets. 
  3. Narrative
    There’s a lot of identity tied up in what we do and an organisational narrative shapes how people identify with work. Organisations need to write a new narrative that’s both authentic and tells a story employees can happily see themselves within. 


Team health: Creating a safe inclusive space for teams to thrive

  1. Participation
    An increase in team working means participation across teams has become far less hierarchical than it used to be, when employees just looked to the boss for answers. Forming high-performing teams and giving them permission to break free of bureaucratic processes takes time and work for both leaders and team members. Helping them learn why and how to participate in new non-hierarchical ways is key. Teams need new practices to be introduced to help with that. 
  2. Psychological safety
    Teams are at their best when they feel safe to speak up, challenge and give honest feedback without fear of recrimination. It’s vital to build a culture with permission in place for people to default to being brave and speaking up. Again, teams need new practices through which to create that freedom.
  3. Resilience and wellbeing
    Having a culture that helps people be resilient in times of change is a crucial component of a successful organisation. Many employees are transitioning from cultures where control was everything. So designing and embedding resilience and wellbeing practices into day-to-day routines is vital. 


Practices: Moving teams from old ways of working to new

  1. Meetings
    The old way of having meetings for pretty much everything doesn’t make sense in today’s world of work. But many organisations are carrying on with dated meeting practices without thinking. Stop and take a look. Are they still serving you? We mean it – really stop and take a conscious look. A challenge – Why not start with an experiment this week? At the end of every meeting, ask people how useful they found it. Then ask what would happen if you scrapped it. Why not stop some meetings for 30 days? See what happens and what you learn. 
  2. Decision making
    Organisations need to give permission to a culture of experimentation. Doing so means they’ll need to rethink just how many people really need to make a decision. There’s no time to pass things up through a long approval chain. Luckily there are lots of new practices emerging that can help. Experimenting with consent over consensus is a great place to start. 
  3. Information sharing
    The vertical ways of locking down information aren’t going to help decision making. Employees with more information make better and faster decisions. But this is a big rethink for many legacy organisations. Start the work now to look at the data you hold and how you can make it easier for anyone in your organisation to access it. This includes how you use email and the dated practice of working on standalone documents. We’re all about collaboration now. So teach your employees how to use tools like Slack, Trello, Google docs and more. Design is key – work with your IT, data and security teams to get a solution that works at all levels. And know that if you try and lock down everything a whole load of shadow IT solutions – where people start using their own, unprotected social media channels to communicate – WILL pop up.  


Need some help?

We do the psychological side of change – the mental operating-model work. We believe that change today works best when it’s incremental, learning as you go. Using a series of experiments and interventions along the way to find out what works and doesn’t, and resetting when you need to. A learning journey, not a plan.

We help you experiment and let your teams design the culture and behaviours they need for a new world of work. What you learn along the way decides the order and intensity that’s right for you, which changes as you go along. Just like a journey, you have the freedom to decide to go somewhere new or take a different path. 


Days to help your people think about change

We run days that help organisations think about how they need to change. They all start with conversations – talking with your teams to understand the change they need, and asking them what to do to achieve it. We provide a framework for the conversation, opening minds to what you need and then working with you to find the best way forward. Each day is run by a different industry-leading expert in their field to give teams exposure to a broad range of skills and experience. They can be standalone or slotted together as a series to give leaders their own tailored learning journey. 

Why not see if one of these would help you get a conversation started?


Team Connect

To build trust in teams

With the most important outcome being that attendees connect as a team. 

New Leadership Behaviours 

Help leaders think about how they lead teams

 Putting leadership at team level. 

Team Impact 

Help leaders work better together 

Looking at group dynamics to improve communications and team cohesion.

How We Work 

Get teams working differently

Shifting people from old ways of working to ones fit for a new world of work.

Agile Leadership 

Help leaders
apply agile working

 We help your technical teams learn how to get people to adopt agile working.

Team Wellbeing 

Create resilient

 Talking about the resilience and wellbeing they need to have in place to be the best they can. 

To find out more about any session email us at 


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