Going forward, less value will be found in vertical hierarchies – but more in horizontal, circular or “amoeba shaped” networks.

As a strategy consultancy, we work on assignments across sectors helping define the vision and strategic aims, evaluating options, and identifying the best way to implement and execute strategy effectively.

We have many discussions with our clients about how to “implement strategy successfully”. Often this leads to discussing the required resources and capabilities – and using the principle that the organisational structure should support strategy, the natural tendency is to focus in or to draw a traditional structure chart.

“…need to collaborate is more than a trend – it’s a key success factor.”

Our experience focuses us on how the organisation works collaboratively, and what that actually means in practice for the organisation. We’re often aware of organisational silos – so for example, we will have to consider how technology professionals and business professionals will work closely together for successful implementation, and how this can be best designed. This need to collaborate is more than a trend – it’s a key success factor.

“…’coopetition’ is becoming prevalent in ecosystems.”

We also work within industry or sector ecosystems, and in the last few weeks, we’ve attended the FinTech North conference in Leeds and the Silverstone Tech Cluster annual conference. A key message that came from both conferences is that a critical success factor for these ecosystems is collaboration.  In the example of the FinTech sector, this means that the Banks, the Start-ups, the Universities, and the Investors all need to find a way of working together to ensure success. Cooperative competition or “coopetition” is becoming prevalent in these ecosystems.

So what lessons can organisations learn from connected and successful ecosystems? After all, an organisation is an ecosystem of sorts. We believe that going forward, less value will be found in vertical hierarchies – but more in horizontal, circular or “amoeba shaped” networks. We will need to work together across disciplines and boundaries.

It is, therefore, time to rethink the traditional organisational chart, it’s use and what it actually represents (and what it doesn’t).

Here are our views:

  1. Collaboration is not vertical

All organisations will have a traditional structure chart on the wall or on the intranet. When you join a new job or new team, in your induction pack will be a structure chart. It’s useful for understanding reporting lines (e.g. who signs off your expenses), however, it doesn’t illustrate how the organisation works.

“Draw a collaboration chart.”

So why don’t organisations draw a “collaboration” chart that sits next to the organisational chart? Projects do have stakeholder maps, and product development initiatives may have product squads, but the “collaboration” chart is not the norm.

But it’s not about the chart itself – it’s about what the chart stands for.

  1. Leadership needs to foster collaboration where it is required

Leaders are key in setting the culture of an organisation – they “set the tone” through their behaviours, values and aspirations.

Leaders also need to decide how the organisation operates. Not every function needs to be organised into collaborative or flexible teams.

“Leaders need to incentivise, encourage and sponsor collaboration across their organisations where required.”

Most organisations are facing constant challenges (e.g. technology, regulatory, consumer demands, competitive) that require strategic responses. It is often impossible for any leader to know exactly what must be done to respond to these challenges – broad perspectives need to be taken to build options and alternatives.

Leaders need to incentivise, encourage and sponsor collaboration across their organisations where required – in some instances, this means setting the culture for breaking down silos. They need to be adaptable to use broad, decentralised, self-organising groups to build and model these options such that management decisions can be taken.

  1. Diversity is about organisational performance

The benefits of diversity in the workplace is well documented. There’s no shortage of research that suggests diversity of thought, or being around people who are different to us, makes us more creative and can produce better quality outputs.

Innovation is often a result of moving from convergent to divergent (or design) thinking which can be accelerated through a diverse team.

  1. The collaboration movement is growing

Collaborative work practices are growing through the increase of co-working shared spaces, incubators, accelerators and digital labs.

As these working practices become more “mainstream”, there will be an employee expectation for more collaborative working practices within organisations.

Concluding thought

This blog is and isn’t about the traditional structure chart! The leadership challenge is knowing how to balance both collaborative networks of teams and more traditional hierarchical models to best meet the organisational goals.

“So, the next time you’re drawing a traditional structure chart, ask yourself whether it needs to be vertical.”

If you feel that your strategic planning would benefit from independent review and challenge, and would like to have a no obligation discussion, please get in touch with us here.


Established in 2012, Whitecap Consulting is a regional strategy consultancy headquartered in Leeds, with offices in Manchester, Milton Keynes, Bristol and Newcastle. We typically work with boards, executives and investors of predominantly mid-sized organisations with a turnover of c£10m-£300m, helping clients analyse, develop and implement growth strategies. Also, we work with clients across a range of sectors including Financial Services, Technology, Outsourcing, Consumer and Retail, Property, Healthcare, Higher Education and Professional Services, including Corporate Finance and PE.