Fact Checked

What Is a Horizontal Organizational Structure?

Jan Fletcher
Jan Fletcher

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.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

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.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


A horizontal organizational structure does work best in a business with more of a creative purpose, like an advertising agency, like the article mentions, or a news organization.

More so than in any other businesses with managerial hierarchies, these teams rely on the contributions of each individual member to produce a product. In fact, the managers often have less to do with putting out a quality finished product than the regular workers, so to speak.

As a result, each member of the team's input is vital to the process and recognized as such.


As the article infers, this organizational structure can work with a slight variation that allows managers to oversee teams for individual projects.

However, management needs to make sure that those appointed to the manager positions in these scenarios actually do allow the free flow of ideas from all members of the team and listen to those ideas instead of just dictating orders.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Businessman giving a thumbs-up
      Businessman giving a thumbs-up