Effective innovative teams have to be both agile and flat to be most effective. Otherwise they are not real innovative teams, they are simply small organizations with no clear direction being told what to do by different bosses. To create an innovative organization, everyone in the organization needs to feel responsible for helping to produce the organization’s real results of innovation, not to simply carry out directives.
Innovative organizations must depend on the ideas of everyone in the organization to work effectively. However, if the workforce believes their ideas will be dismissed because of where they are in the hierarchy, they will keep their ideas to themselves. If the leadership silences the workforce because they do not value their input, they cripple their organization’s opportunity to innovate since the best ideas come from those on the frontlines.
To be innovative is to take accountability for improving performance. Hierarchical organizations create impediments through differences in both status and responsibilities for the organization. Creating an innovative organization requires making these hierarchical differences as insignificant as possible.
One of the most difficult obstacles are the organizational structures responsible for oversight. These functions, such as budgeting, procurement, finance, and legal, define their roles through adhering to a rigid set of rules to protect the agency from possible concerns of waste, fraud, and abuse. However, this thinking often prevents the organization from improving performance.
The irony is these functions are simply doing their jobs, because they have never been responsible for improving performance; they have simply been charged with administering a set of formal rules. Things don’t end well for those who violate the rules, so this world is black and white. However, if the agency’s performance improves or declines, it makes little difference to those in legal or procurement. It is not what they are about.
That is not to say that these functions do not care about the agency’s overall mission and goals, quite the opposite, of course. However, they are most concerned with their own rules and regulations. It is why they exist, and encompasses the issues faced on a daily basis. The agency’s overall mission and goals may be on a banner like the movie Office Space, or shared in the monthly newsletter, but they are not necessarily relevant to the functional organization’s real work.
Changing this paradigm requires making these functional units an integral part of the teams responsible with producing the organization’s results for transformation and change. These organizations will still be responsible for procurement and ensuring that that people follow all the procurement rules. However, as part of the overall team responsible for organizational performance, this scope expands to a dual focus of using the procurement rules in ways that will help the team improve performance.
Being empowered for performance changes the roles from simply responding “no, we can’t do that” to responding with a “yes, if…” or at least “no, but let’s think about it this way to get to yes…”
If left on their own, functional units will not only never see the big picture; they will never be in a position to work with those responsible for innovation to create new ways to help the organization achieve its mission. But if an organization is to successfully innovate and execute effective transformation, it cannot happen as a result of a few cross-functional change agents.
The innovative organization engages the entire organization, regardless of their primary functional responsibility of the individual business units. To get the entire organization thinking and acting innovatively requires that everyone see their job from the perspective of the entire organization. Innovative leaders have to change the thinking of the functional units from a broader lens of the organizational mission, whether that be issuing an order for office supplies or servicing the taxpayers.