Today’s most successful businesses are quick, agile, and digital. Right?
Not exactly. According to a 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey of more than 10,000 business and HR leaders, 88 percent of companies believe they need to redesign their organization to succeed in the digital age.
The report states: "The way high-performing organizations operate today is radically different from how they operated 10 years ago. Yet many other organizations continue to operate according to industrial-age models that are 100 years old or more, weighed down by legacy practices, systems and behaviors that must be confronted and discarded before true change can take hold."
As organizations become more digital, changes to organizational design need to move faster, adapt more quickly, enable rapid learning, and embrace the dynamic career demands of employees.
Whether your organization is ahead of the curve or woefully behind, here’s a breakdown of three organizational design challenges and possible solutions.
Problem #1: Silos
Historical organizational structure was based on stability and efficiency. Divisions and employees had precise responsibilities that were fixed. "That’s not in my job description" was bandied about regularly.
Human resources, for example, took care of recruitment, administered company benefits and managed personnel and labor relations. In contrast, today’s HR function is more dynamic and includes workplace culture, learning initiatives, labor forecasting, retention strategies, and much more. Divisions across organizations cross-pollinate, collaborate, and take a more fluid approach to the work they do. Employees, from entry-level to executives, are more aware of the ultimate goals they all share and feel a sense of ownership over their role in achieving them. This type of culture is at odds with a hierarchical, siloed organizational structure. The bureaucracy associated with various branches of a division often results in redundancy and limits creativity and flexibility.
Solution: Work as networked teams
According to the Deloitte study, leading companies are pushing toward a more flexible, team-centric model. Many organizations have discovered that smaller teams are more natural for most people and allow for the most productivity.
This concept may require blowing up the org chart and sorting employees by specialty and project, not by the type of work they do. By uniting specialists from around the organization, employees can bring their expertise to a multidisciplinary team that works together to accomplish a goal, such as experimenting with innovation, improving a service or bringing a new product to market. When the project is complete, the team members disperse back to their original division or are assigned to another project. This model also supports diversity and inclusion, a top priority for leading organizations. "New research by Deloitte and other academic institutions demonstrates that diverse and inclusive teams are more innovative, engaged and creative in their work," according to "Rewriting the rules for the digital age," part of their human capital trends study.
By uniting specialists from around the organization, employees can bring their expertise to a multidisciplinary team that works together to accomplish a goal, such as experimenting with innovation, improving a service or bringing a new product to market.
Problem #2: Poor communication
The modern landscape is a tale of two communication challenges. At one end of the spectrum you’ve got organizations that are sluggish to adapt to technology and digital solutions. Communication throughout the business may be limited to email and homegrown intranet solutions that aren’t inviting for employees to use. On the other end are hyper-digital organizations that use all the solutions: Slack, Facebook Workplace, Stride, Flock, Fleep, Microsoft Teams, Base Camp, Asana… the list is endless and overwhelming.
It’s clear that neither strategies are effective. Too few options lead to silos, miscommunication, and a culture of "endless meetings." Too many choices and productivity takes a hit out of sheer cognitive overload.
Solution: Employ streamlined collaboration tools and encourage widespread adoption
With so many options, the challenge lies in selecting the right solution for the business, its organizational design, and the preferences of employees. When executed right, collaboration tools can help facilitate the transition from silos to teams and connect individual team members virtually and in real-time to increase productivity.
Considerations for finding the right software for your organization include:
- Identify the problem: Think about what challenges employees face when collaborating and look for solutions that directly address them.
- Choose the right scale: Organizations of different sizes will have different needs. Find one that fits your needs instead of the most popular one on the market.
- Make sure it’s secure: Security features should be a top priority and vetted by an internal or third-party IT team.
- Check for compatibility: Make sure the new solution speaks to other key software.
- Do a trial run: Organize an employee focus group to test out the technology before rolling it out to the whole company.
Problem #3: Relying on artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the face of the workplace in both dramatic and subtle ways. According to a March 2018 special report by The Economist, organizations across all industries are "harnessing AI to do things like forecast demand, hire workers and deal with customers. In 2017, companies spent around $22 billion on AI-related mergers and acquisitions, about 26 times more than in 2015."
If any aspect of our work is digital, it’s safe to say we’re using AI. While this helps organizations become more efficient, glean consumer and employee insights, allow for better collaboration and so much more, it also creates an uncertain future for the workplace. How thoughtfully are we adding automation, with regard to our people?
Solution: Cultivate human skills in the workplace
There are some things AI will never be able to do. Creativity, critical thinking, judgment and relationship building are all qualities unique to humans—and these are the skills organizations need to cultivate to prepare for the workplace of the future.
Creativity, critical thinking, judgment and relationship building are all qualities unique to humans—and these are the skills organizations need to cultivate to prepare for the workplace of the future.
Hiring criteria should be widened beyond hard skills and include flexibility, problem-solving, agility, communication, and empathy. Organizations also need to seek out and celebrate disruptors—individuals who are able to look at an aspect of the business with a critical eye, understand the pain points of customers, and imagine an inventive solution from scratch.
No matter what your organization’s structure looks like today, you can bank on the fact that it will change with technology, the economy, the political landscape, and the fickle tides of time. Companies that enjoy the most long-term success are flexible, adaptable, and employ a workforce that is as agile as they are. That often means offering opportunities for mentorship and cross-training for employees to explore entirely different roles and specialties.
In the future, it’s the nimble bird that gets the worm.
Heather Hudson is a freelance journalist and corporate storyteller based in Toronto. She thrives on tackling a huge range of topics, from insurance to cars to small business to home renovations. Just please don’t ask her to write about spiders. That would be gross.