Part 3 of 4 in a series
Silos Isolate and That’s What They’re For
So let’s talk about the need for a new role, the functional advocate. Within every functional organization, knowledge domain experts lead a group of progressively more specialized teams consisting of various levels of responsibility. Variations of this model exist within finance, technology, marketing, operations, and administration. The weakness of this organizational structure is a function of the specialization. Functional areas develop special vocabulary, often shared across industries. Further, more jargon springs up and enforces exclusivity of objectives and processes. These phrases and terms thrive within the organization, location, and sometimes within small isolated teams. In addition to the foreign language requirement, departments self-segregate to increase cooperation and shared learning. If you’ve ever tried to suggest breaking a department’s cubicle continuity, bless your poor little heart for the abuse through which you suffered. What started as a model to increase effectiveness now hampers greater levels of organizational improvement. Just ask marketing and operations to define what ‘quality’ is and then get clear of the cross-fire. These silos of specialization fail time and again to produce real innovation or consistently support strategic initiatives.
Functional Advocacy Builds Networks
What we need is a way to maintain the efficiency of functional areas yet expanding their influence and value to cross-functional efforts. The proper position within the department is one with a moderate level of responsibility, a broad functional expertise, and a natural curiosity about one other functional discipline. With some negotiation between leadership, these individuals work closely with their host department. In time, they learn the common practices and processes that drive the host’s efficiencies. The advocate also shares the same information with the host and acts as an ambassador for his knowledge domain. Keeping the advocate informed and up-to-date requires dividing time between the home and host functions. Since the role requires establishing and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships, functional advocates should hold a deep respect for diversity of ideas.
Benefits of Functional Advocate Networks
In the grid below, you’ll find a organizational, department, and individual resistances in swim-lanes. These are the reasons or conditions leading to disappointing results or complete failures when collaborating across the functional organization. The primary benefit of the functional advocacy is to engender trust. This trust-building cuts through every level and every dynamic. The corrective action or characteristic of a successfully implemented advocacy network appears in the right-most column. Keying in on the organizational resistances, trust initiates openness to differing ideas. This breaks the mind meld, a sameness of thinking, that hamstrings organization growth. Open communications both up and down the hierarchy strengthen commitment to the new dynamic. Direct exposure to new processes and tools dispels bias against resources originating outside departmental expertise. On an individual level, a wider audience and acceptance of differing views yields more outlets to demonstrate personal value. With greater transparency across the entire organization, the coincident resistances breeding contention and exclusivity gradually wither. Trust and understanding result in clear purpose and an inclusive dynamic.
Tell the truth, you see I’ve slapped a thin varnish on this idea. Even if you’re convinced this functional advocacy thing can solve some very difficult problems for you, your department, and your organization, the way forward still seems unclear. In the final post, we’ll talk about techniques to successfully implement and grow acceptance of functional advocacy.