Guest Post by Julie Winkle Giulioni
If you lead an organization, work in an organization, or even set foot in an organization, you know that we are living in a time of significant change. Many forces and factors are contributing to these changes, including:
- Competition comes from all parts of the world and from new (and frequently disruptive) sources.
- Escalating customer expectations means that the bar continues to be raised in terms of innovation, quality, and cost.
- Downward pressure on cycle time results in investing extraordinary effort for sometimes incremental improvements.
- Changing workplace demographics offer the most diverse employee population ever, with greater numbers of younger employees who bring different expectations to the job.
- The significant proportion and importance of knowledge work – and the unique challenges associated with managing it.
- Today’s distributed workforce has people making their contributions to the business from far-flung places, day and night.
Old Structures Are No Longer Delivering the Results They Once Did
In response to these changes and challenges, organizations are morphing. Old structures are giving way to new and evolving approaches to organizing people and work for better results.
What used to be rigid and hierarchical is becoming more human and highly responsive to changing business needs. The former focus on functions is evolving to allow for a more fluid exchange of resources as necessary. The orderly structures of the past that reflected an inward-looking orientation are giving rise to outwardly-focused, organic structures. And finally, ‘command and control’ that has characterized business for decades is being replaced with curated groups and far greater collaboration.
But new organizing structures are just the physical manifestation of change. What they can accomplish is highly dependent upon the culture within the organization. New structures quickly disintegrate if culture is not aligned with them.
Blurry Vision Is the New 20-20
Culture is the environment or atmosphere within the organization based on the norms that arise from the ways people treat each other and work together,
In the new structures, the lines of demarcation among and between departments, division, and functions becomes blurry. The culture must shift to support this lack of clarity.
Actually, blurry boundaries are not about confusion or lack of clarity… quite the opposite. When we trade the hard lines and artificial borders that we’ve constructed between departments or divisions, our vision improves, illuminating opportunities to collaborate. When we stop thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, we can appreciate and leverage our interconnectedness. When we step out of our traditional boxes and into the broader organizational milieu, we can see, and be part of, the bigger picture. Blurring the boundaries in this way involves a mindset that’s more generous and inclusive – and one that’s focused more broadly on the enterprise as a whole.
The outcome of this cultural shift is:
- Collaboration among groups, teams, departments, and/or divisions naturally flourishes.
- Us’ and ‘them’ language dissipates.
- Resources are frequently and generously shared across departments to accomplish goals.
- Employees are encouraged to look outside of their own areas for opportunities to learn, contribute, and grow.
Development Is At the Center of It All
Successfully transitioning to structures that better address the challenges facing business today is inextricably connected with the role of talent and career development. But what exactly is the relationship? Is development a contributor to or outcome of these structural changes?
Yes, to both! Making the most of the evolving, more organic and fluid structures demands new skills. Collaboration. Listening. Feedback. And that’s just the beginning. Operating effectively without the traditional hierarchical order puts more onus on each employee to step up in different ways, making learning and development non-negotiable.
But these structures tend to enable greater development as well. Leaders who have figured out how to blur boundaries find themselves supporting development in more and different ways. They know how to look more broadly and outside of their own areas for opportunities. Structures might enable it – but it’s a leader’s willingness to move people around and even lose good talent to their colleagues that drives employee development and organizational results.
Blurring the boundaries is good for evolving organizational structures. It’s good for talent and career development. It’s good for your people. And it’s good for the business.
Start by taking a few small steps.
1. Get to know your colleagues in other parts of the business.
2. Find ways to support the efforts of those outside of your own group.
3. Interrupt competition and territorialism before it takes hold.
4. Seek out collaborations with colleagues that offer developmental experiences for your employees.
This guest post was written by Julie Winkle Giulioni in celebration of the release of the 2nd Edition of her Washington Post bestseller Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, written with co-author Bev Kaye. Julie works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning. Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, she offers keynotes, workshops, custom webinars, elearning and microlearning solutions that deliver measurable results. Julie is a regular contributor to The Economist, SmartBrief, Saba’s TalentSpace, the Conference Board’s Human Capital Exchange, and offers thoughts on leadership, career development, and more via her blog www.juliewinklegiulioni.com.