Ideas and Observations from Leaders in the Quality Movement

Organizing for the Future:
Networking Blurs Hierarchical Boundaries

by Jessica Lipnack
from Total Quality Newsletter

Every major age of civilization has a signature form of organization. In the stone age it was the small group. In the industrial era it was bureaucracy. In the information era, the network is coming of age. Companies are learning they need to work across traditional boundaries, that sometimes an adversary is an ally. lt's a new way of doing business.

When people talk about networking they tend to think it's about phoning business friends. When we talk about "teamnets," we're really talking about bringing organizations together in the pursuit of meaningful work. That can be departments, companies, even governments. Teamnets are groups that work across traditional boundaries to accomplish something for the common good. But merely talking to people outside your immediate realm doesn't necessarily carry meaningful results. There are five principles for creating a successful teamnet:

People may be addressing the same problem, but hoping for something very different from the solution. Marketing's reason for speeding up cycle times may be very different from manufacturing's. The only way to be sure is to make clear what that target is, and check each action for its value in attaining that purpose.

Realize that a teamnet is made of individuals, and that each (if the team is well-chosen) plays a part. Make sure all voices can be heard, that the teamnet is not managed by a few while countless others look on.

If people want to work together, chances are they'll do a better job of it. Avoid "ordering" groups or individuals to work together. Explain the unifying purpose and its benefits and people will often willingly join in a task that might have seemed like "someone else's problem" through the usual organizational lens.

It is important to get beyond the idea of having one person "in charge ofî a project. Dividing projects into parts and letting various people - not necessarily just leaders in the traditional sense - direct facets of a project make use of a group's diversity. If the only top executive on a teamnet happens to be an engineer, it may make sense to put her in charge of design work, but someone else may be better qualified to head up a related media campaign.

Teamnets depend upon open communication. If it is standard procedure to circulate updates only among managers, or to announce teamnet-inspired procedural changes only to assemblers, others are likely to lose interest. Balancing the five principles is vital. Too much or too little of any one and your effort will fail.

Dealing with Hierarchies

A common concern is what to do with existing hierarchies when establishing a teamnet. You don't need to heave them out the window. The goal is to redirect decision-making power to the teamnet, but the practical thing to do right away is just add links. For example, find a line worker and a marketing person interested in attending the executive committee meetings, or a vice president to attend production staff meetings. That's the first step. The existing committees will evolve into teams that, because of member crossover, interact to solve problems instead of working in isolation. It has been my experience that CEOs readily grasp this concept and its value. Hard-core resistance usually comes from the next level of the hierarchy. You'll see CEOs accepting it left and right, and operational vice presidents scared to death. Their fear is legitimate, if they are interested in protecting their own fiefdoms. But their jobs certainly are not endangered by the concept. Leadership is as important to teamwork as it is to hierarchy. But networking the vice presidents is one of the big challenges of the '90s. Other challenges:

It's easy for people to fall into a "groupthink" pattern, in which everyone becomes accustomed to approaching problems in the same way, whether or not that's appropriate.

It's possible to focus too little on purpose - you think it's one thing, I think it's another, somebody else thinks it's different, so we don't have a common view. Purpose is the greatest natural resource a group has. Keep going back to purpose. When things get fuzzy, look at your purpose and ask if what you're doing fits.

Boundaries are still important. They define the limits of what you can do. It's a way of maintaining a group identity -"This is what we do. What we don't do, those people do."

Reprinted by permission of Total Quality Newsletter. Lakewood Publications,

50 South 9th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402, 800/328-4329


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