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Why You Need a Connected Workspace Network Broker


business leaders working together
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In my last article, I wrote about the opportunities to integrate the connected workspace and organization design. However, it is also important to think about the organization design of the disciplines behind the connected workspace.
The Downsides of the Way We Organize Today
In a connected workspace, digital and physical workspaces, as well as the management of the people using these spaces, must focus on: 1) creating an integrated experience, and 2) working towards common organizational outcomes. This demands that IT, real estate/facilities, and HR have a common agenda and that they coordinate their activities on agreed priorities.
The need for coordination leads some to call for bringing the three disciplines together as a single function, or at least to pull together the parts of the disciplines that focus on the connected workspace into some type of shared subfunction. This subfunction might sit in either IT, real estate/facilities, or HR, but link to all three functions.
To me, as an organization designer, this solution would be completely wrong. This is because an over-reliance on functional organization is part of the problem the connected workspace needs to address. We already use functions too much; introducing yet another functional group, never mind one with rather complicated matrix reporting, is unlikely to move us forward.
A Better Solution
I have previously written about the major organizational groups we need to focus on how to organize a business effectively, especially in a digitally enabled world. As described below, four ways to do so are with horizontal teams, communities, distributed networks, and melds:
  • Horizontal teams, including agile and product management teams, work cross-functionally to provide deliverables to deal with a firm’s or its customers’ problems or opportunities. Unlike functional teams, which are not true teams — as people work mainly independently, just coordinating their work — members of horizontal teams do need to cooperate very closely with each other.
  • Communities bring small groups of people together with the purpose of doing something useful around a shared passion. Traditionally, communities of interest or practice have focused on shared learning, but new communities of performance are making significant contributions to important business objectives, too. To me, a community should involve no more than about 100 people, to ensure everybody can get to know most other members.
  • Distributed networks are larger groups of people focused on a passion and a purpose, and usually supported by a cultural and/or technological platform that makes finding opportunities to cooperate with other network members possible. However, most people in a distributed network will only know a couple of other network members.
  • Melds loosely combine teams, and especially communities and networks, together with functions; they do not have to deal with the bureaucratic paraphernalia attached to traditional matrices.
Along with the rest of the business, our three connected workplace disciplines — IT, real estate/facilities, and HR — need to incorporate these groups. While these disciplines include functions, as entities, they will be melded networks involving the other types of groups. And, because they drive, not just support strategic success, I refer to them as enabling disciplines rather than support functions.
One benefit of this organizational shift is that as these enabling disciplines start to use teams, communities, and networks, integration becomes more efficient too. And this, in turn, obviates the need for a complicated new functional structure around the connected workspace.
The Melded Connected Workspace Network
Rather than continue as separate functions, or combine connected workspace activities into a subfunction, we need to look at creating a more networked, melded set of disciplines. This network could consist of:
  • Communities of performance focusing on small, discreet areas previously managed by functions — Within what was HR, for example, this might include flexible benefits or curated learning. The connected workspace could be one of these communities, or alternatively, we could see linked or networked communities for different areas such as smart office, collaboration, or workspace experience.
  • Horizontal teams developing particular areas, including the connected workspace, within the disciplines — For example, these could focus on improving search, integrating a new app, or responding to a new crisis or business opportunity.
  • Networks melding these communities and teams together and connecting them with other groups and networks across the business, supporting change, adoption and innovation — For example, a network linking together communities and networks focusing on the connected workspace would probably also need to integrate with a change management-focused network of informal influencers, and or a digital champion network.
The Connected Workspace Network Broker
Enabling disciplines in many organizations currently connect with the rest of the business through business partners and business relationship managers. People in these roles work with particular business units as internal clients to tailor and implement work developed within the disciplines.
However, when the rest of the business has moved away from a functional or divisional organization, it becomes harder and less valuable to partner in this way. Instead of this, connected workspace and other disciplines will need to connect, or broker with teams, communities, and networks across the business. In some organizations, this may just require identifying and supporting people who are already highly connected with other people across the organization.
This need for connecting may also often necessitate a new role of network broker that focuses on linking different parts of the organization together. Some of these brokers may sit within traditional disciplines but others may focus on particularly important networks within the organization, connecting these with other networks. Therefore, someone or some people may need to take on the role of the connected workspace network broker.
I know of no organization that is working in exactly the way I have described, but some larger complex companies such as GE are making huge strides towards this. However, if the networked organization is the future of business, then it is important that we think of the long-term implications of any action we take now to facilitate cooperation among the enabling disciplines responsible for the connected workspace. These actions should not just serve as a short-term organizational kludge or a Band-Aid to stick over current problems.
We must resist calls to combine elements of IT, real estate/facilities, and HR into a new function and instead look to move our organizations towards a more networked future. The connected workspace will have a more naturally important role in this environment, and it will also be easier to build the necessary collaborative approaches across the three enabling disciplines.