Vertical vs. horizontal styles of management

The world of commerce has given us various management and production styles that have given us new ways of life. For example when Henry Ford perfected the assembly line, his concept was used in all industries and societies.

The world of commerce has given us various management and production styles that have given us new ways of life.

For example when Henry Ford perfected the assembly line, his concept was used in all industries and societies.

His genius was to break down car assembly - a complex procedure, into hundreds of tiny tasks done in a sequential order with a standard product at the end.

The model T Ford was the first mass-produced car, but it had limitations; Ford was once quoted as saying “Americans can have any colour of car they want, as long as it is black.”

Eventually customisation was adapted into the assembly line model, this allowed varied products to be produced, and the consumer age began.

Today millions of us use the same model in our daily work; we are part of a global market where people do not even know who they are working with.

Seeing as we are in the digital age, we are defined by digital companies, much like the industrial age was defined by manufacturing.

This post-modern, post-industrial age is defined by two companies that are iconic for the models they espouse.

I often ask a person a question; are you pro-Linux or pro-Microsoft? Meaning: are you in favour of vertical or horizontal management?

Microsoft has Bill Gates at the top of a hierarchical structure with a top-down approach; while Linux is user-generated without clear management structures.

Microsoft produced a standardised product that has nearly 80% global market share; the benefits have been standardisation, ease of use and such.

But there have been downsides such as monopoly, computer viruses as well as the limitations of system code itself.

In Linux, we have a model for future companies; thousands of people in several countries working independently to produce customised solutions, as opposed to standardised ones.

In today’s world, the most important language is not English, French or Mandarin, but C; C is the basic language of binary code that has been evolving in various systems, we use it everyday without knowing it.

In development, sometimes you need a top-down approach, but other times you need a matrix system where people are working in a horizontal way but connected.

The world of software programming is perfect for such a matrix system; but how can we apply the concept of horizontal management to our development.

It requires setting up a framework or system that allows people to find solutions suitable to their situation.

In determining national policy, we should leave a part of it to be adaptable to various local situations; there no such thing as “one size fits all.”

Policy is the software that runs government, and much like Linux this policy is designed, implemented, appraised and the process starts again.

Nations can have great benefits from flexible adhoc policies; far from being a weakness, they can also be strength, for example federal nations have different policies in different states.

As long as the wider goal is achieved, then the policy is good – development is our goal and we should always strive to lower barriers to our development, whether they are self-imposed or imposed on us.

Author is a regular columnist for The New Times.

ramaisibo@hotmail.com

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