Smiling teacher standing in front of class.

If you're entering a period of study in school about professional work styles, you're bound to encounter the term “hierarchical thinking.” Deconstruct the term by first understanding the word “hierarchy,” a group or system in which people are divided by different levels, most often by status.

Thinking Style Defined

People who engage in hierarchical thinking see any group in terms of one big organizational chart, in which clear lines of authority are drawn and there is no doubt about who reports to whom. In this way, they place positions and titles above all else. Hierarchical thinkers place great stock in reporting protocols. Since they function best with structure and formality, hierarchical thinkers usually frown upon those who deviate from established norms in the interest of advancing an idea or proposal. For example, an institution that teems with hierarchical thinkers might function well from a technical standpoint, but it probably isn't very creative or innovative because it doesn't cultivate a culture in which people are encouraged to take risks.