Picking the lock on the flexible organization

The Deloitte report is a good place to start adapting for the future





During their very capable unpacking of Unlocking the Flexible Organization, a portion of Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Report, Karen Pastakia and Amir Rahnema referred to a point that warrants more reflection than their time allowed: What is the difference between the traditional cross-functional team and the team-based network?

Observing that we are now in an era of continual disruption where strategy is being rewritten at a pace never seen before, and recognizing that structure follows strategy, Deloitte concludes the organizational structure of the future must be able to adapt at the same pace.

They propose, then, that the future lies with a structure of small, ever-shifting, semi-autonomous, multidisciplinary teams focused on specific outcomes or “files,” that are given the authority to make decisions, access skill sets and adapt to market developments as needed. But, isn’t this just the cross-functional or matrix teams we have now?

If you dig deeper, you find the heart of the distinction: Decision-making has been pushed down and out from traditional centres of authority, rendering those functional centres moot.

In a traditional structure, members of a cross-functional team are “loaned” to work on a file. Since each member reports back up through functional hierarchy, this means the scope of the contribution of each team member is, to some extent, constrained by the functional strategy and not necessarily by the file. Further, permissions to deviate from the scope would need escalation back up and down one, if not several, hierarchies. The result is ponderous decision-making which, by the way, has worked — more or less — for thousands of years.

But in a team-based, networked structure, individuals do not “belong” to functions. The teams/files/members are focused “out” to the customer, not “in” toward the function and are mission- and outcome-oriented, executing directly toward the achievement of a portion of organizational strategy without an intermediary functional strategy. Team members do the same work as they do now, but are recruited for their skill sets by team leaders as needed. The reporting line stops at the edge of the team. If these individuals “belong” to anything, it is the file the team is working on at that time or the team leader.

Of course, many questions fall out of this. Without functions, who will provide specialized strategic direction? What are the competencies of the new networked team leaders, and how can we upskill them? What does performance management look like when you’re speaking to a contingent worker?

The organization of the future is arriving today. For organizations most buffeted by “the swirl” of our times, and needing to get on with adapting and surviving, Deloitte’s network of empowered teams would be a good place to start.

Michael Clark is director, business development at Forrest & Company Limited. Forrest is an organizational transformation firm with 30 years’ experience in developing organizational and leadership capability.


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