Several years ago, one of our professional service clients decided that it needed an organizational overhaul. Management of best practices and competent and successful cooperation across service lines were dreary at best. Critical team members who needed to be at the edge of the business engaging current and prospective customers were anything but engaged. The client responded with a new organizational structure and significantly changed the work environment to support a community feel where service line subject matter experts were in close proximity to business development, marketing, and delivery resources. Team members could mingle and collaborate and engage customers easily, casually, and candidly in key discussion forums.
If you're trying to promote collaboration, as was the managing partner of this firm, proximity certainly helps, as does a visually appealing space. Unfortunately, in this case, it failed to spark any meaningful innovation or deeper relationships with key customers. Recently, management decided to revamp the organization and the workspace once again.
This example should ring with some familiarity to any organization that responds to sheer dysfunction without truly understanding its root causes. Decentralization could help organizational or leadership bottlenecks in decision making. But if you're struggling with poor or non-existing communication, inflexibility, or lack of real collaboration from disparate sides of the organization, it's time to break down functional, geographic, or project-based silos.
Keep in mind that there is seldom a magic pill. The ideas by organizational effectiveness specialists look great on paper (believe me, I sat in a meeting with 12 of them recently at a Fortune 500 client), but they often produce disappointing results. Yet, like the blossom of the Japanese cherry trees on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., each spring, reorganizations come and go with amazing regularity, often without significantly boosting the organization's effectiveness. They seldom produce any real or lasting benefits for end customers.
Business Process Reengineering (BPR) and Total Quality Management (TQM) are two other common initiatives of the past that ignored the highly influential, yet non-organizationally structured social networks of change agents. Knowledge sharing through collaboration is nearly impossible in isolation. In transforming an organization's willingness and ability to change, the relationships of those change agents are critical to anything actually getting accomplished.
Companies that invest resources such as time, talent, and capital to understand and leverage their intra-company, as well as externally influenced social networks, greatly improve their chances of creating lasting and highly impactful organizational and behavioral change through the leadership of their change agents. As a team, if the change agents can map critical, informal, yet highly influential networks and identify and leverage key connections – particularly across traditional organizational charts – they can independently isolate root causes; filter best in class options; mitigate risk through targeted pilot campaigns; and deliver small wins that can serve as momentum makers or future change shapers.