Beyond Teams: Building the Collaborative Organization / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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Beyond TeamsBuilding the Collaborative Organization
By Michael M. Beyerlein Susan Freedman Craig McGee Linda Moran
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7879-6373-9
Chapter OneBuilding the Collaborative Organization
There are new and increasing demands on today's organizations. Connectivity, uncertainty, and speed combine to make work environments more complex and more demanding. Connectivity or "the death of distance" (Cairncross, 1997) means that organizations (and all of their current and potential competitors) has instant access to customers, to colleagues, and to highly sophisticated information about their performance. Uncertainty means that organizations are required to create increasingly sophisticated products, delivered to increasingly demanding customers, across continually re-forming boundaries. In addition, managers must stay alert for the technological changes that will make products obsolete, services substandard, or prices noncompetitive. Everyone now faces a speed requirement created by a dizzying rate of unpredictable, discontinuous change.
More is known about an organization's customers, employees, and competitors than ever before. Tools exist that do much of the routine, back-breaking, mind-numbing work required in the past. Highly sophisticated knowledge of what costs what, what makes money, and exactly where the best sources of profits lie drives focused decisions. On the other hand, global competition, fueled by disparate laborcosts, creates intense and escalating competitive pressure on many organizations.
The accelerating rate of change for products and the increasing variety of products offered result in complex and changing requirements both for people and for systems. In addition, customers, suppliers, and technological innovations change at breathtaking speeds and require quick responses in order to protect relationships or competitive positions. Clearly, organizational life today is unpredictable and likely to become more so.
All of this puts new pressure on employees and on traditional ways of managing them. Organizations expect employees to have the skill, confidence, and commitment to use the plethora of tools and information available and to advocate for change when necessary. Structures are required that can deploy workers to meet shifting demands and priorities without the upset and delays historically associated with change. Managers expect workers to work together, often with changing collections of colleagues, to accomplish complex, demanding work. They expect their members to accomplish tasks that require a sophisticated understanding of the tradeoff decisions inherent in their businesses, tasks that require almost constant learning of new skills, and work that requires the trust, respect, and commonality of purpose necessary for cooperative effort. In short, the structure and people who make up today's organizations must be able to join together to accomplish complex, demanding work. New ways of thinking about how to structure and manage the people and the components of today's organization are required.
The designs used for organizations in the past cannot be used given the demands on today's, much less tomorrow's, organizations. A number of innovative designs have emerged in recent years to address these new demands, including: flexible organization; high performance work organization; new design plants, self-managing organization; virtual organization; reengineered corporation; and ambidextrous organization. John Child and Rita Gunther McGrath (2001) identified four common characteristics across these types of organizations: interdependence, disembodiment, velocity, and power. The new forms have been designed to overcome the formality and rigidity of hierarchical, bureaucratic organizational structures and to enable more creative, emergent, and spontaneous responses to problems and opportunities. Cross-functional integration, flattened hierarchy, and empowerment are essential. Such design changes increase the adaptability of the organization, but only when accompanied by management changes, including a shift in perspective about frontline workers and the ways they can add value.
Collaborative Work Systems as a Solution
Consciously designed and nurtured collaborative work systems (CWS) provide a key foundation for achieving competitive advantage. Organizations that actively leverage the talent of their people through knowledge sharing, mutual support, and co-creation outperform organizations that depend on talent alone.
Collaboration means working together. Effective collaborative means working together efficiently and effectively. This is not a new requirement for business success, but it has become a critical success factor that applies to all the relationships that create a business, including those with customers, business allies, suppliers, divisions, departments, functions, projects, specialties, vertical levels, and employees.
Many experiments have been tried to solve the problem of organizing work in ways that are good for the business; some of those experiments have included ways to make the workplace a better fit for human beings. A win/win solution where the company and its members benefit from the way work gets done has the best chance of enduring in changing times. (At least a win/not lose must replace the old version of win/use.)
A traditional, bureaucratic organization based on command-and-control hierarchy is designed with firm horizontal and vertical boundaries and the dominant practice of "repeat" rather than "create." As a result, the design is often too rigid, too simplistic, and too impoverished to adapt to a more complex world. The old organizational structure is too rigid to adapt quickly to changing environmental conditions; it is too simplistic to match the complexity of the environment; it is too impoverished through suppression of human talent and collaborative synergies to create a rich variety of responses to the challenges of the 21st Century environment. Although pure bureaucracies are now less common, the assumptions that underlie them continue to have strong influence on managers.
Why do we expect the collaborative organization to outperform a traditional bureaucracy? Because the collaborative organization capitalizes on the abilities of the members of the organization more effectively and leverages the synergies that occur in networks of people. Collaborative organizations are characterized by intentional efforts to create structures, cultures, forums, and practices that reinforce collaboration. Designing the strategies, structures, processes, and culture enables improved flow of information and other resources across boundaries.
One such example of a collaborative organization is a team-based organization (TBO), where a team of interdependent contributors is the basic unit of work and a series of hierarchical teams reaccomplishes the lateral coordination necessary to integrate the work of their teams and the rest of the organization acts as support. Within a TBO, many forms of teams are utilized, temporary and permanent, functional and cross-functional, local and distributed. This wide array of team forms shows that collaborative work is being organized in creative ways to fit the situation. Leaders and change leaders in collaborative organizations are continually seeking ways to make their organizations more effective, adaptive, and relevant.
Work is becoming more complex, so individuals and isolated groups are not as effective as teams, who have the synergy essential to achieving performance goals. Employee learning and growth, sharing of information, responsibility, partnering, commitment, and so forth are promoted by the collaborative organization environment. Traditional organizations tend to keep decision making, information, rewards, and power at the top. As a result, the minds and hearts of the lower level employees are seldom engaged. Katz and Kahn (1978) referred to this as "partial inclusion"; others simply say, "Check your brain at the door," meaning "We only want that part of you that can do the simple and repetitive job we have designed." In a rapidly changing, fiercely competitive, global business environment, limited use and development of employees results in a "dumbing down" of the organization and competitive advantage is lost. The CWS environment requires significant changes, but the result is a workforce that thinks and cares-leading to a culture of commitment.
Organizations can be partitioned several ways-horizontal and vertical linkage, inside and outside the organization, within and across disciplines, and between people. The goal of the collaborative organization is to remove inappropriate barriers among these groups and individuals and to create opportunities to work seamlessly. Unfortunately, it seems that barrier building is more common and more natural than productive collaborative exchanges. An assessment of most people and most organizations would provide a low score on collaborative abilities. Creating the knowledge, skills, attitudes, culture, and support systems necessary to create the collaborative organization produces impressive results, including:
People collaborate more seamlessly, that is, fewer hiccups occur;
People adapt more quickly to changes in products and services, changes in customer requirements, changes in work processes, and changes in the competitive environment;
Nonproductive competition between people and systems drops off and is replaced by a preference for cooperation;
The team becomes the more common unit of responsibility;
Ideas and information are not dropped into the chasms between silos; and
The organization functions as a more intelligent system because information and knowledge are shared more quickly and completely.
Effective collaboration in work situations represents a way of achieving competitive advantage in the marketplace. Effective collaboration represents a key facet of organizing. It contributes to customer satisfaction in myriad ways, including responsiveness to customer needs, quality of products and services, cost management, innovation, and speed. The collaborative processes in a highly collaborative organization consist of dynamic, interwoven, and disciplined exchanges of knowledge and information, participative decision making, and co-created solutions to emerging problems. Companies like Hewlett-Packard and Intel have created some of the infrastructure that enables effective collaboration across boundaries. Pioneering companies, such as W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc., provide examples of fully implemented collaborative designs. The two questions here are
1. What creates the foundation for achieving effective collaboration in all parts of the organization?
2. What additional practices could companies like HP and Intel design that would take them to the next level of collaborative capacity?
Collaborative practices apply to multiple levels of the organization: vision or mission level, business level, organizational level, interrelationships between level in the organizational chart, and so forth. Collaborative capability is built at each of these levels. In addition, there are breakdowns that can occur in terms of who one collaborates with, both laterally and vertically.
Knowing, learning, creating, and relating are the most important processes in the organization. They make intelligent and inventive decision making and effective follow-up possible. Every organization has facets that promote or inhibit these processes. For example, in an organization with a strictly enforced chain of command, relating is often legislated in ways that prevent important information from reaching high-level decision makers. Both formal design features and informal cultural influences impact the ability to use the collaborative potential of the organization. Other constraints, such as limited time, information, tools, experience, and so on also have an impact. The ideal CWS would be based on values, structures, and practices that make effective collaboration possible on every appropriate occasion. Many organizations are taking steps to move in this direction. However, most conceptualize the goal in limited ways.
The most common structural change to improve effective use of collaboration is the introduction of work teams. Typically, based on analysis that identifies interdependent processes, a boundary is defined around a group of workers and changes in responsibility, identity, and training are imposed. The team designation creates a pocket of collaborative practice that focuses team member effort and attention and supports collaborative relationships and processes. Well-designed and supported teams provide:
A useful mix of expertise,
An opportunity to increase commitment through involving employees in decision making,
Leveraging of resources through identification of interdependencies,
Pooled energy through commitment to the team or common purpose, and
Possible synergies in decision making.
Work teams represent a leap forward in collaborative potential for many organizations. The problem is that most teams fail primarily because they exist in what can be termed a hostile environment-an environment that neither demands nor sanctions collaboration.
The team-based organization (TBO) has emerged as a solution by providing an environment within which a variety of teams can flourish. The TBO is characterized by:
Teams as the basic unit of work and accountability,
Teams leading teams,
A variety of team types (temporary versus permanent, production versus research, and so forth),
Alignment of support systems with team needs, and
A culture promoting collaboration and accountability.
A culture that promotes collaboration includes adequate attention to the informal aspects of collaboration. The transformation from a traditional organizational structure is slow and challenging. Everything must change. For example, the selection system must identify people with a tolerance for change and ambiguity, a preference for teaming, and an ability to learn. As the transformation progresses, however, collaborative capacity is built.
Every organization depends on collaboration. By definition, people organize in order to accomplish tasks that cannot be accomplished as isolated individuals. The collaborative organization does not require formal teams or a TBO, but collaborative potential is often enhanced by the use of those structural devices. Teamwork is possible without work teams. Southwest Airlines, Johnsonville Sausage, Semco of Brazil, Asea Brown Boveri, and the W.L. Gore Company are examples of this. High levels of collaboration are possible because of the sense of community, enjoyment at work, continuous learning, and the creation of a sense of meaning on a daily basis (Kets De Vries & Balazs, 1999).
Excerpted from Beyond Teams by Michael M. Beyerlein Susan Freedman Craig McGee Linda Moran Excerpted by permission.
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