Alice MacGillivray

Supporting Leadership & Knowledge Work Across Boundaries

Horizontal & Vertical Collide

As I was fine-tuning my dissertation about how respected leaders work in horizontal, boundary spanning environments, I read a story in the Washington Post.

In Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages, Kornblut writes “Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts. What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking.” (A March ’09 update appears here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/01/AR2009030101745.html?sub=AR)

This brought to mind so many stories from my research participants about the challenges of bringing innovations from the horizontal into the vertical, as well as stories about the tensions between knowledge management and information technology shops.  I’ve added a postscript in the dissertation about watching the strategies Obama and his staff use to integrate two very different ways of thinking and working.

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3 Comments»

  Tim Patraboy wrote @

Hello Alice:
Congratulations on your dissertation. I hope all is well. I attended a two day session with Robert Porter Lynch on stragtegic alliances. He highlighted the role of the champion / integrator ub the innobation process. Ths sounded somewhat sumilar to your boundary spanners, It seems strange that people have not got a grip on working as team. It seems that my management is warming to this concept. Can you recommend any good resources on the vertica; / horizontal leadership topic?

Best Regards
Tim Patraboy

  amacgillivray wrote @

Thank you very much for your comments. Congratulations are a bit premature as I am waiting for final comments from one person. I will share the dissertation with participants (and blog readers!) when it is final.

The idea of champions in change initiatives has been around for a long time and fits well with both my experience and research. We have become so skilled with boundary creation and reinforcement that it is no surprise that integration can sometimes enable great gains with effectiveness and innovation. I look forward to reading more of Robert Porter Lynch’s work.

The leadership literature is HUGE and there are so many related key words. One study might use “horizontal” while others use flat, boundary-spanning, egalitarian, networked, community of practice, and so on. I will create a page in “features” of my current dissertation reference list and am happy to connect 1:1 to see if I could provide specific suggestions based on your interests.

  amacgillivray wrote @

Today (April 5) I added a trackback to Stowe Boyd’s comments http://www.stoweboyd.com/ground/2009/04/obama-is-failing-on-transparency-and-openness.html suggesting that those of us following Obama through social technologies stop doing so until he models the transparency he promised.


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