The digital age has thrown our neatly organised businesses into chaos.

According to a recent study, 92% of organisations believe they are no longer structured in the right way, with 87% of leaders believing that digital has disrupted their industry (Deloitte, 2016).

Technology has changed our roles, the way we work and the skills businesses demand of their employees; opening up huge gaps in our organisations.

One unavoidable issue is that we don’t know how to organise ourselves anymore. We’ve become a victim of the outdated org chart – constantly trying to fit our people back into tight little boxes that are no longer relevant to the digital world.

Let’s take a look at what the structure of businesses look like in the digital age, and what makes businesses fit for the future?

The death of the department

Departments as we know them becoming increasingly irrelevant. We can can’t neatly squeeze people with similar skill sets into one team, it doesn’t work for them and it certainly doesn’t work for the customer. Departments were created by accountants and HR as an efficient way to organise and train people; achieving economies of scale by focusing their work around the particular tools they used to achieve business goals. But as they have scaled, ownership was frequently passed, people got ever more frustrated and we lost focus on what really mattered – the customer.

In a digital world the lines have become blurred and departments are either stepping on each other’s toes or leaving gaps where no one dares take responsibility for the customer.

The CRM department is torn between digital and offline demands, an ecommerce team now delivers online tools for stores or sales teams are fighting with marketing over control of social media. For many organisations, it’s created a big mess.

Empowering employees to self-organise

For years we’ve believed we need to organise people – tell them what to do, how to do it and what their goals should be. But it’s an assumption based on mistrust of employees – a belief that we can make things work better if someone oversees everything.

When people are organised by others who are far-removed from the actual work and its consequences, it leads to misunderstanding and inefficiency. People’s responsibilities and ability to make decisions are tightly controlled, which results in the ownership being passed – it’s easy for someone to say ‘it’s not my job’ if they feel that they’d be taking any kind of risk. This loss of initiative ends up with a deskilled and disempowered workforce which believes its remit only includes certain tasks.

People work better when they can self-organise into teams structured naturally around business demands. It’s a responsive and streamlined way of working which can be adapted to changing needs, skills and emerging problems.

Technology company Cisco have formally acknowledged the power of the undocumented team, estimating that 30,000 teams currently operate within their business which are not represented in the HR structure (Josh Bersin, 2016). They’ve accepted that their people work better when not restricted by roles but when they are trusted to organise themselves around clear objectives, outcomes or customer needs.

Creating multidisciplinary teams

Instead of structuring your departments around the tools people use, think about the customer journey. Encourage people to organise around the customer’s needs as they move along from pre-sales, sales and into post-sales. You won’t end up with neat little units composed of people with similar skills but you will end up with multidisciplinary teams that will service the customer better.

A post-sales team may be made up of CRM professionals, customer service and logistics people but they will have one clear goal – delivering great post-sales service to grow loyalty. These teams and individuals are rewarded on their feedback from customers. They’ll still pull on their strengths but by working across skill-sets they’ll take a more holistic approach to the customer experience.

By working alongside colleagues with different capabilities and tools, your people are likely to share skills and gain a wider knowledge of the business. This makes them more adaptable and useful, able to move around your business, wherever they’re needed. What’s more, these groups will tend to be smaller, leading to better communication and a better division of responsibility.

When you silo your people into tight organisational structures you limit not only their growth but the growth of your company. Most importantly it leads to a lack of autonomy and development opportunities for your employees, meaning they are much more likely to leave. It’s bad news for the workforce and for business when you consider that 33% of senior leaders believe employee loyalty has a direct relationship to profits (American Management Association, 2015).

So next time someone asks you about how you intend to structure your business for the future then maybe it’s time to ask whether it’s you who should be organising anything. If you want an efficient business and satisfied customers, then maybe it’s time to trust and empower your employees.

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