Leadership: Moving Horizontally

by | Mar 1, 2021 | 0 comments

The most promising innovation and business opportunities require collaboration. Management must break down vertical communication and get people working together across boundaries horizontally.

In the workplace, employees default to focusing on vertical relationships. So, to get them to promote horizontal teamwork, management must:

  • select those employees that exhibit an affiliative personality
  • encourage employees to ask questions that genuinely explore others’ thinking
  • actively take other points of view
  • learn from and relate to people who think very differently from the

Most business people recognize the importance of breaking down instincts that hamper collaboration but struggle to make it happen. That’s understandable, as it is very difficult. When asked to respond to the question of how their relationships are between themselves and co-workers almost 85% say their relationships are vertical.

When asked which relationships are most important for creating value for customers, the answer flips to horizontal collaboration. Today, generating revenue lies in management dealing internally and externally to satisfy customers’ wants.

The value of horizontal teamwork is widely acknowledged to achieving greater customer loyalty and higher margins. Digitalization is transforming business at a breakneck pace and is all the more reason to embrace collaboration in and outside of the company.

Affiliates Lead Horizontal Teamwork

Fortunately, many people exhibit a strong affiliative personality. Numerous studies have found that management teams that include affiliates significantly outperform teams without them. It is in the best interest of all businesses (no matter size) to identify alleviates as they bridge the gap to horizontal communications.

Employees who can reach outside their designated function both

within and outside of the business are very valuable

Management must give affiliates the opportunity to move into roles that expose them to various parts of the company and bring diverse functional areas together. Use them to grease the wheels of collaboration.

Asking The Right Questions

In moving communications horizontally the value of curiosity is very important. High achieving employees in particular frequently fail to wonder what others are thinking and seeing.  Worse, there is a fear that asking questions shows incompetence. 

Not asking questions is a big mistake. The best business coaches and consultants always ask a lot of questions because they want to get to a solution and that’s how they gain the knowledge to solve problems. 

Asking others what they are seeing and thinking conveys humility and prompts them to do the same. Humble people are better at bringing others together to solve tough problems. In the current fast-changing business environment, humility is a strength. For example, “It really is a complex world, if we don’t work together, we don’t stand a chance.” 

Asking Good Questions

  • Use open-ended questions. “How are things going on your end?”
  • Don’t overgeneralize. As collaborations develop, ask questions that focus on specific issues but allow for room to elaborate. “What do you know about X?”
  • Check your understanding. “Does that sound right – am I missing anything?”
  • Periodically take time to inquire into others’ experiences of the process/project. “How do you think things are going?”
  • Open-ended vs yes/no questions are best. “What do you see as the key opportunity in this market?” will generate a better response than, “Do you think this is the right opportunity to pursue?’

Seeing Through Others’ Eyes

Everyone should be encouraged to consider others’ points of view. People from different business disciples do not see things the same way. When you take the perspective of others it enhances positive information sharing and increases team creativity. Although most people are capable of taking others’ perspectives they are rarely motivated to do so.

To enhance this motivation meetings could include customers, business coaches, advisory board members. Move from a meeting format to a workshop format to explore questions and develop solutions in a collaborative process. Additionally, employees must be assigned tasks that push them to tap into expertise outside the company and industry.


To unleash the potential of horizontal collaboration, management must equip employee affiliates to cross the cultural and function divides within and outside the business. Deploying affiliates to build connections across groups gets people to ask questions and learn what others are thinking.

Over time the barriers will disappear and collaboration will become routine.

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Categories: Management

By Jim Lavorato

Jim Lavorato is the founder of 4M Performance which is designed to assist businesses to survive and thrive in these uncertain times. Jim launched an entertainment-related company in 1988. He was at the forefront in cinema technology and helped spearhead the movie industry's transition to digital presentation and distribution. He also co-founded the Arboreal Group, an environmental consultancy. He has published articles on the motion picture and media industries and is a contributing editor for ScreenTrade magazine and writes a blog "Cinema Mucho Gusto". He is a certified SCORE Mentor in the SCORE Greater Phoenix Chapter and lives in Scottsdale, AZ. Learn more about Jim in his "About" page.

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