Working Across Boundaries

During the last decade, the concept of working across boundaries has become a popular concept. The basic premise is that individuals and organizations need to traverse boundaries if they are to achieve their goals. Essentially earlier concepts of fixed organizational demarcation lines no longer apply in modern-day business concepts. Within the organizational framework, the concept of boundaries can become a reasonably complex issue. There still remains an active debate as to whether the definitions of boundaries are realistic, objective, or imagined. The concept has become more complex with the use of outsourcing and Public/Private partnerships in terms of lines of demarcation and authority.

Working Across Boundaries

The concept of boundaries within organizations takes on different shapes and forms. Much of this has to do with social and knowledge boundaries. The explosion in technological and communication advances has simplified the concept of working across boundaries. Despite the fact that organizations still are challenged to collaborate and share information, nevertheless, individuals seem much more liberated in this regard with advancements in social media.

The old-fashioned concept of organizational design was the creation of silos or departments where functions, roles, and responsibilities would be clearly defined within the context of a hierarchical matrix. For example Sales, Finance, Production would each be self-contained units within the organisation and clearly defined lines of demarcation within the business. The Heads of these Departments would be Senior Managers and expected to collaborate with one another but not trespass into the other domains. The holistic business strategy relied upon each unit to fulfill its role within the overall strategic plan. As organizations involved in size and complexity, this model posed serious shortcomings and new thought processes were required. This required improved leadership thinking and more collaboration across boundaries.

Working across boundaries remains an important part of Public Sector relationships and imposes significant challenges to business operations but they create distinctive value sets and improved goals in the business relationships.

Concepts of Working Across Boundaries

In management terms, boundaries are often classified as lines of demarcation that often impose constraints. Those items determine managerial effectiveness. For example: how a business works within the confines of a specific environment; the concept of specific leadership styles and the influence on organizational behavior. Both organisations and the environments function inter-related and they create structures and social orders that assist in the definition of the business and its purpose.

Understanding Social Boundaries

This essentially relates to the relationships that are formed between groups of individuals within an organization. Boundaries have remained central to the thinking of social scientists in the establishment of social boundaries between groups and individuals. Particular reference made to that of transactions costs and how modern technology like sophisticated communications and the internet has had a profound impact here. It has directed whether the boundaries have either diminished or enlarged and the effect on production costs has influenced important decisions like that of outsourcing or internalisation of specific tasks. There are numerous models that you can adopt to examine the impact of Change on the Organization.

One common method approach is that of Lewin’s Forcefield Analysis. This enables you to examine both the driving and restraining forces that emerge as a result of the proposed changes. The model is particularly good for identifying forces that are considered to be ‘polarized’ i.e. a change in one condition creates an equal and opposite effect in the other. The model was designed by Lewin to assist the Process Analyst to guide people through the unfreeze, move and refreeze stages of business process analysis. It is also an excellent means of demonstrating the dynamics that are in play. So by completion of the Force field Model, you have acquired the data in order to complete Lewin’s Three-Step Model. In the Unfreeze you examine the status quo and those driving forces for change. You can decrease the resisting forces against change. The moving element involves taking action and moving people. The freeze means make the changes permanent and establish new ways of doing things. Introduce the concept of ‘rewards’ for achieving the desired outcomes.

Understanding Knowledge Boundaries

The sharing of knowledge has both an internal and external boundary. For example, in the internal model, it is desirous for information to be shared between the Sales and Marketing departments. This empowers both departments to do a better job. Externally, there is the sharing and collaboration of knowledge and information between allies.

In order for an organization to be successful, it must manage its’ four pillars of knowledge. These being Leadership, Organization, Technology, and Learning. Information Technology (Pillar 3) has achieved an amazing impact in the promotion and dissemination of knowledge in the business environment. Unfortunately, Technology has had a greater influence on guiding the strategic planning of organizations, as opposed to the other way round. Organizations have re-engineered their knowledge base and business processes in order to meet the integrated demands of the software application.

Knowledge Managers need to understand that despite the many advantages Information Technology (IT) has to offer the workplace it is not a magic utopian panacea. Equally any Information Technology application that undervalues Knowledge Management will equally fail in the business place. If Knowledge Management is to be considered effective with IT in business it must be treated as its equal partner. Knowledge Managers have criticized IT as being lacking in areas like tacit knowledge. Hence there is a need to incorporate items of behavioral consideration and cognitive function.

There is an increasing demand and challenge being placed upon the CIO’s of business organizations and as such Managers need to become more vocal about their expectations and use the ‘four pillars’ as a framework in order to further improve the integration of knowledge in the organization.

Understanding Physical Boundaries

The concepts of boundaries are important because it is these that represent challenges that organizations must overcome. Although organizations are essentially construed as open systems and these providing a continued interface with their environment. Many academics still believe that it is management that defines the physical boundaries and how you differentiate between internal and external items. In reality, it is difficult for management to define these boundaries as organizations have multiple stakeholders; only by the integration of the combined needs can you truly obtain an understanding of the organizational identity. As such those members of the organisation are of a precarious nature and there are many different ways in which they may be depicted as being inside or outside of the organisational composition.

Understanding Mental Boundaries

Mental boundaries essentially relate to individual perception of what is considered to be internal or external to the organisation. This being what is considered to be acceptable and that which goes beyond this to the realm of external control. It is this form of cognitive schema that helps individuals to create and understand the different social boundaries within an organisation. These differentiations often create perceptions of attitudes related to “us” and “them” and the formation of symbolic boundaries that enable distinctions to be drawn.

The Need to Work Across Boundaries

Essentially the need to work across boundaries relates to that of collaboration with other entities in order to help the development and growth of the organisation. This may range from strategic business alliances, creation of partnership arrangements, developing business networks, and other forms of collaboration and communication in order to benefit the business. Further, the concept of business transformation and organisational change can promote the need to work across boundaries. Hence regardless of the barriers created, being real or imaginary, we are almost compelled to work across them.

The concept of working across boundaries is not a new concept but one that has been with us for many decades. Technology has created more ‘enablers’ in terms of making this more operationally efficient and the ability to share information and knowledge. The reality of globalization, struggling financial markets, the need for cost-cutting, and austerity measures have increased the need for more collaborative working. The use of sharing information in a collaborative environment often results in better outcomes and an improved managed risk portfolio.

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