Friday, August 21, 2009

Four Legged Round-Table

Have you ever sat around a round-table with four legs? It seems awkward, especially if you end up by one of the legs. You loose some sitting space, not to mention that each leg is usually thin, though not excessively. However, if one of the legs breaks off, the whole table is unusable.

Compare that with a round-table that has a single post in the center and usually four "feet" at the bottom of the post. The single post is usually very thick and, therefore, stronger than any single leg on a four legged table. What's more, if one of the "feet" on the bottom of the post break, the table is still usable, although a bit unstable.

How different is this from our workplace? I argue, not much. the table is our business and what services or products we deliver to our clients. The business relies on its people for delivery and support of services and products. You can think of individual business units as the individual legs of the table. Often we work in environments where our business units are silo-ed from others and we end up supporting a small part of the business and holding up our own end of it. What's more, many of our efforts may end up getting duplicated, such as subject matter expertise or domain knowledge. Think of how product development may work independently of Marketing and Sales and how each may require separate project managers and subject matter experts.

The organization falters when any one business units does. However, if we learn to become interdependent, we begin to act as the single post with multiple feet. By interdependence I'm referring to the sharing of information, strategic direction, resources' domain knowledge and responsibility across the business units. In this way should one business unit falter, the others can continue to support the business and, possibly, redistribute the workload and responsibility to other business units. What's more, many duplicated activities will be reduced, resulting in a total cost savings to the organization.

The analogy of the business unit applies just as well to individual contributors in a smaller company and how well they work in teams or independently.

Ask yourself then, which model would you prefer to implement?