The Rise of Horizontal Trust

When hierarchies break down or fail us, horizontal trust tends to emerge. A hierarchy is a vertical form of organisation. Armies are hierarchies. Many religious systems are hierarchies. Families are hierarchies. In vertical hierarchies, power increases at highly levels. Often (but not always), accountability also is higher the higher up you go. In a bank, there is a highly paid boss – a chief executive. There are senior managers, middle managers, supervisors, employees etc. If I want a loan from a bank, as the amount of the loan goes up, the level of “sign off” needed is usually higher up in the organisation’s hierarchy.

In restaurants there are chefs and sous-chefs (literally, under-chefs). In schools there is a “head master”. The word “head” gives a clue as to what vertical hierarchies are. We make big decisions with our brains, which are located in our heads. So, the “head” of an organisation is usually at the top of the hierarchy. He or she looks “down” on the rest of the organisation that carries out the decisions. In many vertical hierarchies, power is higher, the higher up you go. The lower down you go the more people are simply obeying the decisions or the higher up “heads” or “head”.

When this works, we trust those higher up. They have authority because we believe in them and have faith in their ability to make the right decisions. We entrust them with the “thinking”, the decision making. In a well functioning vertical hierarchy, those are the top are trusted. When trust breaks down, all kinds of hell can break lose. There are complaints, people go on strike, people leave, or they stay and sabotage or try to cope, with rising dissatisfaction.

If you don’t trust your bank, you can withdraw your money. If you don’t trust your patents, you don’t confide in them. If you mistrust your doctor, you throw the medicine away. Mistrust often arises from episodes where we have been failed, let down, where we feel we were lied to, manipulated or even dmaaged or abused. Trust is easy to lose, much harder to win back. In vertical hierarchies we invest those higher up with our faith. When they let us down, that faith is weakened, even destroyed.