Horizontal Accountability and Authority

Organizational structure is the way we define the working relationship between two people with respect to accountability and authority. Vertical relationships are managerial, assumptive in nature, it’s the manager who has both the authority and the accountability for output.

Horizontal relationships, however, are tricky. Two people are required to work together but neither is each other’s manager. Notice the word is required, not recommended, not suggested, but required. In that working relationship, who is accountable and who has the authority? This is the dotted line dilemma.

And this is a dilemma, because most companies fail to define the accountability and authority in horizontal working relationships. Most companies hope the two people will just figure it out and get along. But, they don’t. The trouble presents as a communication problem or a personality conflict, when it is in fact, a structural issue.

My favorite example is the marketing director and the sales director. Neither is each other’s manager, but they are required to coordinate together. We hope they would be able to figure it out, but they don’t, because we failed to define the accountability and the authority in that horizontal working relationship.

The marketing director and the sales director are both accountable to construct their respective annual budgets prior to December of each year. They are also required to meet and coordinate where things require coordination. The marketing director may plan and budget for trade shows, but must coordinate with the sales director to allocate sales people to participate in the trade show booth. The sales director may plan and budget to add additional sales people to the sales team, but must coordinate with the marketing director to add more lead flow from the marketing system.

So, if the marketing director calls a meeting with the sales director, is the sales director obligated to go? Yes, why?  Because we have established an accountability for respective annual budgets and required that they coordinate.

Of course they have to schedule the coordination meeting at a suitable time, but they are required to do so.

Defining the accountability and the authority in these horizontal working relationships is what makes them tick.

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