Our methods

Horizontal leadership, Adriaan Bekman

Introductie Currently, we are moving from the industrial age to the information age of the knowledge economy. This process is taking place at a rapid pace, faster than our ability to adapt.

The industrial age aimed for management and control. These principles have become deeply embedded in our society and are still used in many places. However, they are causing an increasing amount of tension and aren’t up to dealing with modern day, complex issues.

First initiatives, self-managementOver the last decades there has been an increasing interest in self-management and in setting up self-managing teams. These are the first signs of a search for new organizational forms.

This sounds wonderful, but in practice, many of these initiatives have failed. Why is this? Because they have been set up from the vertical management model and target efficiency and costs. That just doesn’t go far enough.

Vertical goes horizontal, the extreme exampleThere are also examples that have worked, the most famous of all being Semco, owned by Brazilian entrepreneur Ricardo Semler. He implemented horizontal organization structures in his company to an extreme degree.

At the age of 21, he unexpectedly became CEO of the company his father had founded and couldn’t (and didn’t want to) manage it as his father had done. This forced him to search for another form of leadership.

Semler’s story is an amazing source of inspiration and example of what horizontal organization can generate. It can go a long way. It does however demand enormous motivation, keeping your feet on the ground and steadfastness.

In the Netherlands, we knew predecessors in the 80’s and 90’s in the form of the IT company BSO. Led by Eckart Wintzen, it became known for his successful cell structure. At this moment, the organization Buurtzorg is a current example of horizontal organization operating in the Netherlands.

Horizontal leadershipAdriaan Bekman is our inspiration in the Netherlands as far as horizontal leadership and horizontal organizations go. His story goes deeper.

Using his professions as sociologist and philosopher, he has built up solid and inspiring foundations beneath the shift from vertical to horizontal organizations. He also explains why this shift is so unavoidable.

Bekman’s theory shows strong correlations with Graves’ theory. Making increasing use of one drive ultimately leads to inefficiency and forces a move to the next drive, in response to that inefficiency. So, the inefficiency of the vertical model leads to the emergence of the horizontal model.

Vertical organizations concentrate on the red-blue-orange drives, while horizontal organizations lean more strongly on the orange-green-yellow drives. Both focus on success and results; the vertical model manages from red-blue and the horizontal model organizes from green-yellow. These are fundamentally different approaches.

As you can see, both models have different underlying drives. This makes the shift a complex process that takes time and effort. In this process, success comes in small steps, that will regularly test your faith and trust.

In the end, it all boils down to a healthy balance between vertical and horizontal leadership, between managing, control and self-organization. Here too, Bekman is clear and down to earth.

This balance also shows a parallel to Graves’ theory, where vitality is all about the balance between the “I”- and “WE”-focussed drives. Self-awareness plays a crucial role in the process of finding this balance. This demands insight and reflection at all levels of the organization: collective, team and individual. With its three-level approach, Spiral Drives™ offers you the right instruments to do this.

Adriaan BekmanAdriaan Bekman (1947) is a sociologist who graduated in Business Studies. He is the founder of the IMO (Institute voor Mens- en Organisatieontwikkeling – Institute for Human and Organizational Development) and a lector in Leadership at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences.