Functional Silos Are Over—Now What?

Am I overly specialized? Is there such thing as having too much expertise? Well, no. But as it turns out, opening up job descriptions to focus on the journey could improve collaboration across the board.

This has implications for how we engage inside and outside the organization. For instance, if Jordan Teicher is right, how we organize marketing teams is about to change. He says this would include restructuring across the funnel, following the client journey, and mapping roles to industries and audience segments.

Whatever your expertise, diversifying your team can move you toward a more collaborative and service-oriented approach to engagement. Giving employees autonomy and streamlining workflows increases productivity and collaborative potential. Employee engagement improves over time, clients and donors notice, and your brand gets a boost in the process.

Here’s how it works. First, the employee model evolves from “having skills” to “solving problems.” Each team member becomes an expert in one stage of the funnel, allowing them to enhance every part of it, rather than focusing on one job.

Diversifying closes skill gaps and encourages upward mobility, adding value to the organization and talent market long term.

Second, employees take creative ownership of their work. By focusing on experiences, employees not only adapt in a practical setting, but they also track new challenges (and solutions) as they arise.

It’s worth considering how people crave deeper meaning in what they do. Author Daniel Pink calls it “Motivation 3.0,” where autonomy, mastery and purpose define one’s journey and self-worth. By engaging deeply with clients, employees themselves help to build a culture of accountability at the organization.

Third, collaboration drives the process. Diversifying responsibilities within “frames of experience” along a linear timeline creates a storyboard dynamic, where team members visually position their work (best practices, strategies and takeaways) along the funnel. This type of transparency grooms them for collaboration.

Where to begin? Organizations can beta test with internal engagement models for HR staff. Onboarding, evaluation cycles and outsourcing can all benefit from this approach. Marketing, engagement and development teams can pilot cross-departmental programs, then scale up for external partners.

Teams can also integrate small changes and work up to larger ones. When I co-developed a business case analysis for integrating the TechSoup forums with a new platform, the spirit of collaboration was infused into everything on our “must have” list.

As the most trusted tech resource for nonprofits, the TechSoup forum attracts a wide range of professionals, from experts to amateurs—all looking for a place to learn and share about tech. In this environment, working toward shared objectives with strangers is common.

As forum community manager, I led a team of experts and worked with TechSoup’s engagement team to position the forum as a resource for the global nonprofit community, as well as a content partner for brands like Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco and Box.

The platform we imagined would take a service-oriented approach to relationships. I suggested that moderators each own a part of the member experience, from registration to onboarding to contributing—something we could later adapt for partners.

Considering our timeline, we started small. First, to better equip client services, we encouraged personnel to integrate the forum into their daily workflows. This required working outside of their job descriptions, in this case using the forum to answer questions, share product updates and follow up with prospective clients.

Restructuring in this way helped to streamline and personalize relationships, which led to the forums becoming a revenue parter—a big win for everyone.

Not all teams can do what we did. Restructuring often requires more people and money for salaries and training, not to mention time and energy to justify new procedures “because it’s always been done this way.” If you’re resource-poor or risk-averse, a case study or consultation can help.

Bottom line: If you’re looking to work smarter inside or outside of your team, consider opening up your job descriptions. You’ll be ready to collaborate when opportunity knocks.

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