Finance quote from @Euan on Twitter the other day “It is easier for organisations to digitise their dysfunctions than it is to face up to them.”
It is very true and the conversation we are already having several of our clients. Our speciality is matrix and virtual working and digital initiatives that supercharging this way of working. The flat structures, cross functional working and collaboration through technology that the matrix requires are all essential precursors to effective digital working.
However, the matrix requires changes to corporate cultures in many organisations. A particular example is that organisations who have a traditional hierarchical and high control environment find it difficult to operate flexible matrix. If you have multiple bosses and are part of multiple teams then escalation is complex and time-consuming.
Where organisations are obsessed with control over resources it can be difficult to organise work that cuts across budgets and profit centres. Leaders become obsessed with the precise meaning of their solid and dotted line reporting relationships instead of focusing their people on what needs to be done.
We are seeing an increase in conflict between the needs of activity – the work that cuts horizontally across organisational boundaries and often requires fast-moving, mission focused teams, and the requirements of the vertical power and resource allocation structures.
Given that the need to organise work horizontally is compelling and that all value is created by working across the silos to deliver value to our customer (whether internal or external) we need to align power, control and resource allocation with the needs of the activity.
At the same time there is an enduring role for structures such as functions and country organisations to provide a long-term capability and community basis of the organisation. An organisation is more than just the sum of its activities.
If we now look forward into a digital age where people with the requisite skills are quickly brought together through technology to deliver a specific outcome. It’s hard to imagine this working if each individual has to get permission, resources and decisions from their own functional “owner”.
In talking with HR people who work with Silicon Valley start-ups I hear that there is a high degree of intolerance for hierarchy in these organisations and a strong focus on getting the work done. The challenge scaling this up to a large organisation.
The digital working revolution may seem a long way off to many of us and there is a lot of hype about the subject. However now is the time to address some of our corporate cultural and ways of working challenges so that we are ready for a more flexible way of working, whether we call that matrix management, virtual teams or digital working.
A great place to start would be looking how we deal with hierarchy, power and control in our organisation and asking whether it’s fit for purpose for the organisation of the future. This imbalance is already causing a problem and digital initiatives will make it much much worse.
If you would like to find out more on how to do this please contact us.