Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Breaking Free From Organizational Walls

The #LCBQ for June is:
How do we break down organizational walls when it comes to learning?

Here are the top 5 actions that can help in breaking down organization silos and promote learning:

1) Foster collaboration across teams, departments, businesses.

There are invisible boundaries across teams and departments. Businesses have more visible boundaries. Most departments and businesses may have clashing goals too. To break these silos and to foster learning, it is important to move away from the traditional vertical structure and create common goals that can be achieved by working together. A more horizontal, 'end-to-end' solution-based structure encourages teams, departments, and businesses to contribute their part to the overall solution and get a chance to interact with each other and learn to work together. Cross departmental pilot teams can also work together to innovate and create new products or services. This cross-functional exposure develops critical competencies across a larger group and avoids the traps of one group getting over-specialized.

2) Identify experts and provide access to these experts.

It is important for us to know our individual strengths so we can leverage those at the right time. In the same way, it is important for an organization to identify its expertise and people who posses this expertise. These experts should be identified clearly, accessible readily and especially at the time of a crisis. Problem-solving and troubleshooting tends to bring people together in ways that encourage open communication, learning from mistakes, and the ability to identify best practices by sharing knowledge. All of which are priceless ingredients to a successful learning story. Besides, Web2.0 tools can bring these experts closer to the point of need than ever before.

3) Create dedicated physical and online spaces that encourage social learning.

It is useful for people to know that there is a space - physical or online - that is dedicated to promote communication and learning. I remember, my last organization had a room called 'The Innovation Room'. The environment and decor of the room was inviting; no formal seating arrangements, bean bags, white boards, and empty flip charts. And I can proudly say, we did get together in that room to innovate - a lot. The space gave us the freedom to ideate as a group in a non-threatening environment. The same concept can be replicated online to provide online discussion forums that break the boundaries of hierarchy and structure. Social learning and learning from customers and partners should be encouraged and promoted.

4) Create a common, unifying organization culture that promotes learning.

To encourage a culture of sharing at an individual level, it is important for the management to develop this culture first at the organizational level. One of the ways to create this culture is to have uniform processes and practices that provide access to data and information in a transparent manner. By sharing data and information in a transparent manner, individuals and teams are encouraged to share their knowledge more readily and this avoids the hoarding tendency. 

5) All employees should be agents of learning.

To promote continuous learning, it is important that we continuously be at it. It is not enough to apply the first four points. Perhaps, the most important aspect is to have internal agents that promote such a learning culture in everyday situations. In an ideal world, all employees should be agents of learning. But a few always begin first. Everyone should use their position, authority and/or influence to motivate peers and subordinates to learn from each other. As influencers, you should emphasis critical values that help break silos - open communication, achievement of common goals, and knowledge-sharing. These values are far more important than personal expertise or individual success.