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Vertical To Horizontal: A New Workplace Reality

Written by Rune Kvist Olsen Saturday, 08 April 2006

The horizontal and egalitarian track in structuring the organization

To describe the horizontal and egalitarian track we will start with a description of a model which gives us some alternative options in relation to power - whether we want to just be in control over ourselves or in control over others. To get the gist of this model you have to imagine that you are on a train journey and have the option of stopping at three different stations. You can also change your destination and go on with your journey to another station on the track. By choosing and selecting the respective stations, you gain different perspectives on how your personality will "match up" to the conditions at the different stations.

Station 1:
On this first stop you step out with the purpose of seizing as much power as possible on behalf of yourself and at the expense of others. You aim to protect all the power you get and are dependent to allying and joining forces with others who also operate as power-snatchers and power-holders. One of the main power-mechanisms is therefore to protect yourself and your fellow mates in maintaining the accumulated power-base you and your other power-associates have acquired from others. The system of control you have to establish and maintain in this first stop by your self and by your allies, is characterized as self-protecting, self-affirmative and self-preservative. On the first stop you can place yourself in a position of greed and feed yourself on the power of your respective rank and position. On this stop you will consequently get power for yourself by taking power away from others. At this stop the power-balance is based upon the principle: "Empowering some by disempowering others". This is your offer, your choice and option at the first station.
Station 2:
On the second stop you step out with the purpose to share the power you acquire and obtain with others. You aim to achieve power by bringing what you possess to others. On this stop you have to give away and share the same possibilities and options of gaining power with others on an equal basis. To get power on this station you have to build an agreement and shared understanding with others so you can be allowed and legitimized to acquire power through sharing. You are dependent on other's cooperation and trust in allowing you to step out and have a powerful stay. You have to contribute to protecting the shared power and be focused on combating threats from outside as, for example, threats in the sense of people who want to exploit and utilize your common attained power-base. The system of control at this stop and station is characterized as self-given, self-sharing, mutual protecting and self-preservative. At this stop you consequently get power by collaboration and cooperation with others, and in contributing to keeping the station free from persons who only want to take advantage of the shared power in their self-interest. At this stop the power-base is based upon the principle: "Empowering yourself by empowering others". This is you offer, your choice and option at this station.
Station 3:
At the third stop you step out with the purpose of giving away all of your power before you are supplied with new power. You aim to give away all that you have and all that you get of power, control, status and rank voluntarily and unconditionally, before you are entitled to get power from the common power-source. You are at this stop seeking power by giving up any forms of protection and personal security, and place your power-destiny in the hands of the common interest for supplying you with the power you will need to do your tasks. The system of control at this station is characterized as self-given, mutual confidence, and self-preservative. At this stop you consequently get power by trusting yourself and others unconditionally, and with a spirit of absolute belief in what you can obtain by giving to others what you have before you can expect to get something back. The gift of giving in the sense of sharing is the most precious value in your interaction with others at this station. Therefore the gift of getting something back is only a precious value when the gift is not being taken for granted. At this stop the power-balance is based on the principle: "Dis-empowering yourself before you get self-empowered". This is your offer, your choice and your option at the third station.

In my21 article "None to command and control" I presented some guidelines about a concept for a new power-structure in the workplace. This concept is based upon the idea to transform control and steering outside the individual person in the workplace, to control and steering inside the individual person. In this way the individual human being develops the ability and capability to perform and function as a 100% responsible and independent person in the workplace based on absolute personal freedom and mutual trust. Through this personal transition inside the individual person, the need for outside steering-systems and steering-persons to be in charge and have control over others is no longer needed and is superfluous in the organization. Through this concept of enabling and attaining real personal responsibility and mutual trust between equal individuals, we evolve a process from a vertical and hierarchical relationship between human beings to a horizontal and egalitarian relationship between human beings. To succeed in this personal transformation and organizational change, it is absolutely necessary to be ready and clear-minded for the destruction of the vertical and hierarchical order and to instead be willing and determined to construct a horizontal and egalitarian order. As I stated in the former article21: Without a change in structure, people will continue their current practices based on their beliefs, habits and mental patterns that these creates. Therefore a different conception of leadership (individual, personal and not by rank) is needed - one that empowers the person (inside authority and personal power) and removes the position (outside authority and positional power): This reasoning is based upon our beliefs about the capabilities and abilities of our fellow human beings to act as fully responsible and independent individuals. These beliefs are realized when the corresponding conditions necessary for actions are created, and consequently releases the possibilities and opportunities which are embedded in all human beings as the competent persons they actually are.

What do we mean by "responsibility", "responsible" and "sense of responsibility"? When we take on responsibility we feel responsible. The person who feels responsible will give away the responsibility to others without disclaiming his or her personal responsibility. The expression "give away responsibility to others" means that we show other people trust. Then we can get responsibility from others in the sense that we can also be shown trust. When we, however, have responsibility imposed upon us from others (for example superiors) we are not able to feel the same sense of responsibility. The person who does not feel responsible will not want give away his or her responsibility to others. Without the sense of responsibility, we are not able to show others personal trust, which is the main condition in achieving mutual trust in the workplace. We show other people trust and can give away trust to others when we are permitted and able to take personal responsibility for our own actions. To be responsible as a human being, it is therefore necessary to take personal responsibility by ourselves. We will not easily assume and take on responsibility where we are given responsibility by others through their control over our own actions.

I stated further in the article: As I see it, empowerment of people is about creating consciousness (the way we perceive and think about us selves and about others) through transformation of the power-structure in ways that establish personal (rather than positional) authority and identity. A change in the power-structure requires a change in the mental patterns that influence how we see each other, from position-based attitudes to individual-based attitudes. The kind of leadership we are used to having will inevitably change throughout the tranformation, not because of the person in the position (the rank is in any case removed), but because of a new reality (brought about by a change in consciousness) that will bring about new conditions for power-sharing in the organization and in the workplace.

In another article, "About Freedom",21 I discussed the phenomenon "freedom" in relation to the consequences of the steering-system and the steering-mechanisms in the workplace. These reflections were applied to illustrate the relationships between individuals in organizations. The reasoning goes as follows: In outside directed systems (steering outside the individual) we are relating to each others positions and ranks. In this type of positional based system the position and rank are superior. In inside-directed systems (steering inside the individual) we are relating to each others persons. In this type of individual-based system the person, competence and relations between people are superior. In outside directed systems it is impossible to prevent or solve conflicts between the individuals because the relations between people are not built in as a mechanism into the steering-system as such in the organization. In inside-directed systems, however, conflicts are prevented or solved because the relations between people are built-in as a steering-mechanism in the organizational system. Common arguments are often presented in the sense that conflicts are natural and normal features in organizational life, and that conflicts between individuals always will occur in one way or another.

This argument can be validated by the essence of the specific power-structure. The inner life of a relationship is shaped by circumstances and the structural context of the relationship. Therefore a formal structuring of power in relation to rank and position will, at the same time, shape the informal relationships between human beings. For instance a vertical and hierarchical power-structure with relationships based on superiors and subordinates will shape the corresponding informal power-structure between persons who indirectly are encouraged to take on roles of control and domination of others on an unofficial basis. The formal power-structure therefore always reflects and mirrors the informal power-structure in the workplace. Within a horizontal and egalitarian power-structure with relations based on equality, it will only be possible to act and behave as equals members and colleagues, because the power-structure reflects equal relations and demands equality to get the work done. A formal structure of power-based relations between human beings as an overarching value of the organization will consequently be reflected in a coherent informal structuring of relations in the workplace (with no opportunity whatsoever for someone to take control and command over others).

Then we can talk about two types of value-based steering-systems in the workplace with in-built mechanisms:

  1. A steering-system (horizontal and egalitarian) based on personal freedom and mutual trust.
  2. A steering-system (vertical and hierarchical) based on non-freedom and non-mutual trust.

In the horizontal and egalitarian power-structure there is no climbing and no need for fighting each other because of the mere fact that people do not need to compete with each other for survival. In this power-structure work is personalized in relation to individual responsibilities, coherent roles, functions and tasks. People work with an unconditional trust in themselves and in each other. In that respect people are able to cooperate with each other and ask for help when help is needed. People are used to supporting each other because they know that they are at the same time supporting themselves. The egalitarian power-structure is characterized by an ongoing communicating process between equal human beings throughout their personalities, their individual authorities and personal competencies. Based on this individual-steering power-structure the individuals understand and acknowledge their mutual dependence on each other. They are ready to share and support each other without any doubt and hesitation.

In summary we can conclude as follows about the benefits and advantages of the horizontal and egalitarian concept of organizing:

Through this concept of organizing the workplace in a horizontal and egalitarian way, the control and steering of the work and of workers is internalized and is inside the individual based on total and absolute personalized responsibility and independence. This inside and internalized way of structuring and shaping the power, is what creates and establishes personal control of power and the confidence to use this power to execute individual made decisions. In the next round, this structuring of power will be the basic element to create real conditions for communication and cooperation between people through the horizontal order and the egalitarian power-structure.

To create a community or a unity of people who are able to act unanimously to get the work done, the main condition is that the unanimous creation is based upon the following value and principle:

The individual person must become a sovereign human being which in its essence is able to discover, experience and comprehend itself as a part of the community and understand that individuals are mutually dependent on each other as long as the individuals act and behave as sovereignty individuals.

Collectivism did not work as an organizational form because of the lack of understanding that a collective consists of individuals and must base its organizational structure on this fact. When the individuals are functioning 100% responsibly and independently based on their total personal freedom and mutual trust, and when they have obtained personal confidence in themselves as persons, the individuals are mature enough to evolve a collective processes of working together - for example in work-groups. Then the collective becomes a reality because of the real empowerment of the individual as a truly free and independent human being. Then the individual can, for the first time, start to use the expression "I" and "me" as the person's reference to his or her contribution in the group process, and the terms "we" and "our" as the reference to the common contributions and results of the work-group. The collective drifts into a vertical and hierarchical structure when it doesn't acknowledge the sovereignty of the individual. Instead, the collective creates ranks and positions for superiors and subordinates and systems for control and command. In this way the collective becomes an authoritarian and totalitarian regime based on fear instead of trust.

In this context we can also develop a definition of "solidarity". Solidarity evolves when individuals are treated as the persons they sincerely are (and not as the persons others want them to be and become). If individuals are treated, however, as persons that they are supposed to be, they will not act and behave in a united way. Solidarity is a consequence of mutuality, equality and equity between human beings based on their individuality as worthy human beings with equal access to freedom and trust in the workplace.

When the horizontal and egalitarian power-structure is implemented as an actual and formal reality in the organization, people will start to relate to each other as true equals. Then for the first time they will be able to share what they are and what they have with others without being afraid of losing anything and without fear of being punished just because of the persons they really are. When this power-structure is in place it will be a great victory for humankind. The main standard for getting the work done will be the equality of relationships between people, governed by human values.

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