I’m in the middle of reading General Stanley Chrystal’s, Team of Teams. One concept he describes in the book is how our historically hierarchical organizational structures stand in the way of our ability to move quickly when called upon. Putting this in layman’s terms, employees in one function feel constrained to speak with employees in other functions unless they go through their chain of command. This exponentially adds time delay that can be devastating to customer metrics. Incidentally, this issue is one of the predominant reasons it took so long to deal with the Iraq war.

When I counsel with executives about implementing their strategies to transform their organization, one of the cultural elements we discuss is “hierarchical adherence.” How much do employees follow their chains of command versus how freely they feel to simply pick up the phone or walk over to speak with a colleague in another function? You would think that in order to quickly implement transformational change, you would want everything neat and tidy, organizationally speaking. Clear roles with clear accountabilities, including clear hand-offs between functions. Not so.

Fine-tuning your cross-functional dysfunction does not mean making it go away. It means having enough alignment at the top to ensure employees are marching toward the same purpose, but not spelling out every detail of every transaction. The more you encourage employees to work out their needs, the stronger the connections they will have. When the time comes to implement a big transformation, they will have established better working relationships across the organization. This accelerates their ability to clarify unknowns and determine and support each other’s needs.

In the late 1800s, Fredrick Taylor revolutionized industry by driving greater efficiency through highly structured processes and organizations to support them. This served us well for a century or more. For us to remain competitive, however, we need to transform our organizations quickly to adapt to the environments in which we work. You can prepare for your next transformation by enrolling your employees early to work together, understand their respective impacts, and devise their own plan to accomplish your purpose.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Steve