The traditional thinking about divisional and functional structures within organizations, which were born of the need for specialization and a clear division of labour, is that these divisions, functions, or structures are well defined. The presumption is that people will have a clear understanding of the borders between them and a clear agreement of roles and responsibilities. Cake divided, all clear.
But take a modern organization. Let’s say it is a multinational business with territorial presence and multiple support functions across the board. Nowadays, other than the geography (if you are in charge of France and not, say, Italy, this is as clear as it gets) many other boundaries are far from clear.
Support functions have often far less clarity and more question marks around their identity. Corporate PR and Communication functions are challenged by Marketing. ‘This is our territory’, they may say, ‘we don’t need you’. These functions then challenge Marketing on brand communications. “We are the ones who know how to communicate’. Social media comes along and challenges everybody. ‘Where do I sit, guys?’ Internal communications is challenged by modern HR and HR is in turn challenged by Internal communications on Employee Engagement. ‘It’s mine’; ‘no it’s mine’. R&D and Corporate or Business Development are often parallel competitors for The Product. ‘We will make it’ says R&D. ‘No, we will buy it; it’s cheaper than paying your salaries and we get a more decent return’. If your corporation has a Strategic Function, the Business Units, may say to that function: ‘Who do you think you are?’ In a multinational client, last year, I counted seven distinct functions who, during my interviews, claimed to me to be in charge of Strategy.
We are spending a lot of time on the ‘this is mine, this is yours’ game, because the borders are open and there is no point any more in appointing Border Guards – nobody will take them seriously.
Since there is no right or wrong, only capabilities, my suggestion: Occupy The Street! Plant your tent, light the fire, display your banners. After occupying, behave like occupiers with a mission, and quickly start delivering.
When I push my clients on the idea of ‘occupy the space’ – and, believe me, I do – I often hear ‘ but surely, it is not up to us; they must tell us what space we can occupy’. ‘They’, the magic corporate ‘they’, is usually those guys on the Executive 10th floor (who, the assumption goes), have all the answers. ‘They’ either don’t tell you, or play a strange guessing game. But the main reason why ‘they’ don’t tell you, is because ‘they’ don’t have a clue (because nobody has, because there is no right or wrong, because these rules have not been written).
One thing ‘they’ (and, incidentally, you as well) don’t like, is empty space. My unwritten Law of Corporate Thermodynamics says that ‘Any free space will be filled so that all the little boxes in the organization chart can take care of everything and deliver comfort to leaders’. So, before the Law is applied, occupy the space, occupy the street, take charge and show the value of getting things done. ‘They’ may not have the appetite to send in the troupes to take the tents down. Who knows, ‘they’ may even welcome the whole thing and showcase you as an example of ‘taking accountability’.
Occupy it! If you don’t, somebody will.