“Decisions are made at headquarters and do not take into account that the consumer here is different”; “I can’t reach my weekly sales target because there is no stock”; “We have everything ready to produce, but we lack the inputs”; “That information is held by Finance, not us”, are some of the phrases we often hear when something in collaboration fails.

Today, no one doubts that collaboration is important; it is no longer thought that a company can win in such a competitive market by operating in silos. However, to collaborate, it is not enough to believe in its importance. Nor does collaborating represent the same thing for every organization: its meaning can vary according to its scale, the way it is structured, and its strategic priorities. Likewise, it does not mean the same thing for all areas and levels within the same company: probably the type of collaboration required in an operational area is different from that needed in innovation areas.

Different structural models, different collaboration needs

In our quest to understand what each type of organization means and needs, we have analyzed three structural models: the more traditional hierarchical pyramid, the organic one formed by agile teams, and the networked one, as an evolution of the matrix structure where different nodes are created through the interaction between global and local teams, by function and by category.

In the first of these structures, the more traditional pyramid, there is usually a clear hierarchy model with decisions made at different levels and processes that cross the various areas.

In these cases, for collaboration to occur, it is necessary for each team to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and to meet those objectives within the proposed time, so that the task can properly follow the established workflow.

An example of this is what happens between the Purchasing and Manufacturing areas. The Purchasing team usually has a catalog with technical specifications and time and cost objectives to meet. If these requirements are successfully met, the inputs can be correctly delivered to the Production department. However, if there is no collaboration and effective communication between both areas, delays in the delivery of inputs may occur, or the necessary specifications may not be met, which would affect the production process.

This is why the main challenge in this model is that the communication interfaces are very well defined: who from each team acts as a link with the others, what the workflow is like, what the requirements of each area are to function, how and when one team should deliver its product or service to another.

On the other hand, the organic structure tends to organize itself with agile teams, known as squads, with clear priorities and objectives defined within a specific period.

This model is very common in areas of innovation or solution development, even within traditional organizations.

In this structure, for effective collaboration, it will be essential that each person within the team has a clear role, in which their value contribution to the shared objectives and results to be achieved is known. Thus, if the goal is, for example, to improve the customer experience, we can see that three specialists (one in data, another in experience design, and a third in product) can achieve the desired outcome based on the specific value contribution of each.

Collaboration will not be achieved by fulfilling a series of tasks or deliverables but by contributing to the overall result with individual knowledge and expertise.

Agile interactions and established decision-making roles will allow each team to contribute to the organization what is expected of it, focusing on the “what” and not so much on the “how.”

Lastly, network organizations are a model that we see increasingly frequently to leverage scale, while addressing local needs. These are companies with a structure that we can visually associate with that of a neural network, where people and teams connect to each other with a “many-to-many” logic, unlike the traditional structure where reporting lines generally went from “one to many.”

In these organizations, for example, Marketing teams can develop global strategies that are then adjusted in each country and executed by Sales teams with a local focus, working together and connected, combining viewpoints at different levels and capturing synergies at scale.

These companies thrive on flexibility to improve their collaboration. They need guidelines that direct and, at the same time, give freedom of action, and it is through a more dynamic allocation of resources that effective collaboration is achieved to work on changing objectives. Instead of having job descriptions tied to fixed tasks and times, incentives will be needed that encourage “stopping doing” more agilely in the face of changing priorities.

This network organization must be very connected, with defined nodes (contact points), with information available in real-time, and with a flexible work attitude, to collaborate and adapt to changing plans.

These structural models coexist today in our organizations. There are practically no companies with 100% pyramidal organigrams, nor are there organizations that have adopted organic, network, or other models for all their areas.

The challenge is not to choose a single model for our company, but to identify which is the most suitable based on business objectives, and then evaluate what the roles, incentives, routines, and information flow will be, that will allow us to achieve better collaboration.

With a management and governance model designed based on what our organization needs to abandon the siloed work scheme, we will have a much greater probability that collaboration will be achieved in the way we require and in the places where it adds value, than if we leave it to the individual will of people.

Daniela Olstein

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