Last week we discussed working across boundaries and implementing a systems approach. This week, I am continuing the theme with an expansion of what it means to work across boundaries and some suggestions to help you do so successfully.
Working across boundaries means many things to many people… It can mean:
… working across organizational lines
… working across supervisory or leadership levels
… working across functions
… working across corporate entities (partners, resellers, etc.)
…working across customer lines
… working across physical confines
… working across cultural differences
Above all else, it is about partnering with people – people who think, behave and act differently than you do for a million different reasons. Whatever boundaries you are working across, never forget that the diversity and complexity of the individuals in a multi-cultural, multi-functional workplace is shaped not only by culture and/or function, but by their life experience – the dozens of values, thousands of attitudes, tens of thousands of beliefs and millions of events that continually evolve throughout a single lifetime. Individual perspectives and perceptions are relative.
Now, consider the collective. In doing so, it is imperative to Create An Environment Where Working Across Boundaries Is Not The Exception, But The Norm – Despite The Challenges!
A great way to create this environment and facilitate broad-scale contribution and cross-organizational motivation is for those involved in an organizational (or departmental) initiative to see it from end to end. Only by linking the people that are involved in the entire process and understanding the logic that takes place across the different boundaries can you leverage every person in every department involved to uncover the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats inherent across the organization. By linking and leveraging colleagues across functions, cultures and seniority levels you sustainably improve the organization and enhance the long-term motivation of your workforce. Over the past 25 years, I have found the best way to leverage a multi-functional, multi-level, multi-cultural network of people to optimize overall operations – rather than optimizing each business units objectives – is to organize key stakeholders around a core initiative in a multi-day workshop (physical or virtual) designed to ensure all the players understand and buy into the importance of the “system” and their role in it. Within this context, help the group to:
- Understand the need for change and their role in it.
- Map out the existing challenge as it actually exists (not how it is supposed to operate or how they would like it to function).
Why do you have a challenge?
What is the root cause of the challenge?
Why is this initiative necessary?
What is currently working?
What is not?
What is missing?
- Conduct a complete SWOT Analysis of the current state.
What are the strengths?
How can they use these components to inform the initiative?
- Qualify and quantify the performance value of each function/process/location from the standpoint of the customer (external and internal), as well as documenting any wasted effort in or between steps.
Which functions/processes/locations are critical to success? Why?
What has to change? Why?
How is each component part of the process measured? How do they know they are successful?
Does every piece of the process make sense? Why or why not?
Is it the most efficient way to conduct business? Why or why not?
Is every component of the initiative effective? Why or why not?
- Physically walk through each interaction (for example, following the route of a customer or key stakeholder can be enlightening).
How do specific stakeholders see this initiative? What are the steps that impact them? How?
How do external customers view the current state? What are the things that impact them? How?
- Assess the time investment and efficiency for each piece of the work product for each component part versus the end-to-end cycle time.
How is the overall process/system impacted by efficiencies/ inefficiencies?
What are the productivity and financial implications for each delay in the process?
What are the implications to the end user?
7. Identify challenges without being accusatory (focus on the facts, not the person).
Subsequently, brainstorm (together) the potential to maximize strengths and opportunities, while minimizing weaknesses and threats.
- Collectively brainstorm the opportunities inherent for each area and what they are contributing to the overall the organization.
What does a “Blue Sky” future look like? What are the constraints?
How will this initiative “thrill” stakeholders or customers?
What is the positive outcome for the group?
Which areas can reduce cost through this initiative?
How can they link the cost reduction back to the customer or key stakeholders in other areas?
Who can reduce cycle-time or delivery times? What are the financial and productivity outcomes from reduced time commitments?
- Derive an action plan together to improve together across all boundaries.
Does each stakeholder understand and value the need for change?
Does everyone commit to openly working across boundaries for the good of the whole?
Has the team agreed on owners and due dates for each component piece of the initiative?
What are the ground rules for interacting across boundaries?
How will accountability be instituted across the board?
10. Identify how the change creates a win/win for each member of the team in their own way.
What is gained by working across boundaries?
What is their contribution? How are they making a positive difference for others?
How do they need to reframe the change as an important and positive aspect of their work?
Keep in mind that you are likely creating new behaviors, shared objectives and measures, a structure of visibility and oversight and management processes that will allow disparate parts of the organization to collectively implement change, institute accountability, monitor movement and celebrate progress together. All of these benefits are HUGE – but we all know, deep down, that none of these are possible until we get everyone working together across boundaries to solve problems.
The overarching goal is to improve and align across boundaries to create an exceptional experience that will ultimately drive efficiency, effectiveness and the motivation to partner with colleagues across boundaries… whatever those boundaries may represent. After the workshop, everyone should be linked by a common vision of what they are trying to achieve together despite their differences… and have the capacity to leverage their skills and talents across departments, business units, geographies, customers, suppliers, or other stakeholders… so that the whole becomes far more than the sum of its parts.
How Will You Create A Whole That Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts?
Please engage the discussion and let us know how you link and leverage your workforce across boundaries.
Do you need an expert to help you accelerate your global organization? Contact me at SheriLMackey@gmail.com.