There is a romantic view of the organization that sees it completely borderless, inside and outside. Inside, this view says, there should be complete fluidity between all parts of the organization, certainly no silos, and, in the extreme, it is all about one single big network.
Who could say this is not a kind of noble aim? We all spend a fair bit of time talking about, and expecting, fluidity of collaboration. Indeed, a major problem in many places is the lack of communication between departments, groups, tribes and clusters, so cracking this problem must be good.
And it is. But in many cases the direction of energy is misguided. People equate the push for cross collaboration with the dilution of identities. Consciously or not. So we want Marketing and Sales and R&D and Finance to be completely ‘aligned’, which in some cases translates into agreeing too much. In the extreme, the popular ‘one company’ philosophy, reaches in some cases extreme fluidity of communication, at the expenses of all expecting to belong to one single worldview and narrative.
I am clearly exaggerating to make the point that collaborating across borders actually needs borders. The issue is not to kill identities and tribal grouping (part of the fabric) but to make them talk and work together.
In caricature, stretching the argument, I would say, don’t destroy the silos; just make their walls very thin so that the loud music from next door can be heard, even, dare I say, became unbearable. That perhaps will trigger visiting the neighbouring silo to talk or protest. That is communication ‘across borders’.
There is an interesting social network study reported as ‘In social networks, group boundaries promote the spread of ideas, study finds’ (Katherine Unger Baillie, m.phys.org) that shows that completely open and fluid networks are not as good as clusters with boundaries (my expression) at promoting complex ideas. It seems as if those ideas could be completely lost in a theoretically boundary-less network. It needs ‘the tribes’ to make sense of these ideas and spread them. Referring to physical neighbourhoods, the study says: ‘But when group boundaries are eliminated entirely, people have almost nothing in common with their neighbours and therefore very little influence over one another, making it impossible to spread complex ideas’.
Translation for me: keep the borders (after all my TEDx months ago was called ‘In praise of borders’, but this was in the personal context of the self) and respect tribes and clusters. The effort is not in the dilution but their permeability.
We need the grouping identity and belonging (corporate tribes) which is the place where people find their commonalities with others, their differentiation.
When all organizational tribes ( functions, divisions, sections, units) look the same, smell the same, feel the same and sing the same hymn, you don’t have an organization but a non-organization. Maybe a cult.
Borders are good. Just eliminate the passports and give permission to cross.