An ideal collaborative organization enables the talent to flow naturally to projects for its highest impact. Such an organization enables the flow, it manages the flow but it does not dictate the flow. The ideal being what it is, it nonetheless suggests the balance is shifting -- organizations would have to move aggressively towards enabling, supporting and managing the talent flow rather than dictating it.
The current hierarchical, box & wire organization becomes a structural barrier to talent flow, as the talent is expected and rewarded for performing within the departmental boundaries. How often have we heard that the talent is being “loaned out” by the manager to specific projects! Implicit in this is an expectation of the manager that the talent would protect departmental interests. Even if an altruistic manager does not have any such expectations, the talent is being “pushed out” to a project, as the decision of talent flow is being made by the department manager.
Pushing the talent to projects is one way for achieving collaboration. An alternative is to “entice” the talent to high value projects due to: i) their visibility and impact on the organization, and ii) professional and personal interests of the talent. This construct does not suggest anarchy but a managed flow of talent in which organizational goals and personal goals are optimized. The project manager attracts the needed talent due to the opportunity presented by the project, personal reputation and appeal, and appeal of working with other respected peers.
In this digital age of collaboration, where technology is lowering the time and distance barriers rapidly, the effective organization is flattening. Work is becoming more collaborative; that is, project-oriented and multi-disciplinary. Project managers would create more value through enticing and aligning the best talent with project needs. Instead of managing traditional departments, organizations would manage talent pools in requisite disciplines. Talent managers would nurture, support and help the talent to navigate, as well as ensure that the talent is setup for success in collaborative projects.
Interaction between project managers and talent/talent managers thus becomes a market-clearing mechanism, in which the talent allocation is optimized for the highest value to the organization as well as the individual.
The ideas presented above are not all that far-fetched, although most organizations have a long way to go. Apple Computers has been doing something similar for years, where project managers entice the talent and the talent has the ability to negotiate. Management consulting industry is another example. At the beginning of a new project, the best available talent is selected. Individual consultants have a varying degree of ability to negotiate. Since consulting firms nurture a culture of team work and collaboration, the project team begins to function effectively in a very little time. We are not biased towards the consulting industry because we have spent endless years in it. We know very well its organizational challenges to talent flow and turf protection. Nonetheless, the industry envisions an ideal allocation of talent, and goes towards it for a good measure.
Is the traditional organization structure, in use today, dead?