I've been intrigued to watch the emergence of companies and groups which are much more "horizontal" than traditional vertically-designed organizations. They are also much more organic: groups are created by their members, often somewhat spontaneously, around shared interests. They often function without formal rules. The connection between members can be based on nothing more than mutual cooperation, some of it only tacit. The internet is a great example. It grew out of something else, almost of itself. No one owns it, and remarkably, it is open to everyone without cost. Al Qaeda is an “organization” but has little hierarchy, is based on relationships, and has no legal standing. It's as much a personal affiliation as a philosophical one.
Contrast this horizontal form against the traditional model for business, government, military, etc. where the leadership structure is in pyramid form with the president at the top, managers in the middle and the workers at the bottom. The world was built by these vertical organizations, and for the most part they have served us well. But things are changing.
Some new businesses, especially in the tech world, are more horizontal. While they typically have a board of directors and a CEO, etc. the actual lines of power may be significantly different. Actual power is likely to be shared with or even dominated by the creative and technical teams. These people have been able to move freely to other jobs and to demand high salaries and unique working conditions because they develop the firm's profitable products. Middle management hardly exists in such firms, except for administrative functions.
Apple has grown its iPad and iPhone businesses by making its codes available to app developers. Consequently, the utility of the iPad and iPhone has multiplied geometrically. Wikipedia's encyclopedia entries are written and edited by the world. Moreover, Apple's, HP's and other companies' customer service is mainly handled by wikigroups. Can you imagine a company thirty years ago off-loading its customer service and product refinement to unpaid people not under their control, but who will address their customers' needs? Wiki members collaborate without knowing each other. Linux is one of the most powerful and popular computer codes. It is completely open source. I can't think of an analog to that in the 1950s or 60s.
Collaboration as a formalized method of doing business and of engaging others is becoming the norm. The younger generation seems to gravitate to collaboration rather than an authority-based, chain of command structure. Cities, towns and other entities are using public involvement projects with bottom-up citizen involvement models. For example, Envision Utah has no governmental power, yet has aided numerous cities, counties, and regions in developing far-reaching plans for transportation, air quality, land use and zoning--all done by creating an honest, open, and highly-inclusive collaborative process.
We need to take a new look at the structure of our institutions to see if we can improve them by making them more horizontal, more open, more flexible and organic for consumers and workers. In the same way, established institutions need to create much more collaborative processes, for both external and internal relations. Successful organizations will involve their clients in these non-traditional ways.