Horizontal Hierarchy

On April 3rd, Malvern Prep was fortunate enough to welcome two distinguished guests, General Stanley McChrystal and New York Times journalist Adam Bryant.

To open the evening, a team of three Malvern Prep sophomores (pictured here with Bryant and McChrystal) talked to the audience about effective teamwork. Their team had won a competition that had challenged the student body to create a presentation on effective teamwork, prompted by the story of Malvern Prep alumnus Dr. EJ Caterson ’92, a surgeon profiled in Gen. McChrystal’s Team of Teams.  

In the midst of the unpredictable chaos of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Caterson and his team responded nimbly and expertly.  What could Malvern students learn from that example?

The boys framed their insights around the concept of “Horizontal Hierarchy.”  A truly effective team, they said, can’t be commanded “vertically,” by one leader at the top.  Instead, if a team has a vision for success, then a horizontal orientation allows a team to leverage each person’s greatest strengths for maximum adaptability and creativity.

In a simple but elegant illustration of student-centered learning, this student team designed and then refined their presentation over two round of competition and one final iteration for their public presentation.

In a world of ever-accelerating change, no leader at the top can command and control the rest of an organization.  And even if she or he could command everyone, it would hardly be desirable.  One of Gen. McChrystal’s essential insights in Team of Teams is that the most effective teams organize around a deep sense of purpose and then trust.  With a shared vision ("purpose") and with trust grounded in horizontal relationships, such teams can overcome almost any challenge.

In our world of ever-accelerating change, is your school preparing students to sign up for a deep sense of purpose?  Is your school preparing students to learn how to trust the teammate to their right and the teammate to their left, to work as a single unit to face unpredictable challenges? Because the world isn't slowing down. It's moving faster and faster...




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Christian Talbot