Organizational boundaries as we knew them in the 20th Century are becoming sources of “troubling ambiguity.” Boundaries that once steadfastly defined economies, societies, industries, companies, and employees are being redrawn, reconceived and redesigned. Boundaries were once drawn by others; now we speak about boundaries as arbitrary “social constructions” that can be reconstructed once we know what we want to achieve. This blurring of boundaries parlays with another trend in recent organizational life: the gradual erosion of hierarchies. While the basic pyramid of power–albeit in a flatter, more fluid form–is unlikely to erode, leaders are creating new structures that are more collaborative, more egalitarian, and more flexible in nature—and organizations coaches can help them understand this new perspective and create these new structures. The author identifies ways in which coaches might assist in these collaborative ventures.
Confronted with growing pressure to “do more with less,” responding to the quickening pace of change, and taking advantage of new opportunities in foreign markets, leaders in all sectors have looked at their often tired, lumbering hierarchies with fresh, critical eyes. Their response has frequently been to review, rethink, and reorganize themselves. And they have adopted—or invented—a wide array of new collaboration-based structures: cross-licensing agreements, strategic alliances, hollow organizations, virtual organizations, vertically integrated partnerships, consortia and joint powers agreements.
I think it is important to note that, while the basic structure of collaboration has been around for many years, contemporary collaborations are redefining some of its most basic elements. For starters, power relationships are being conceived in a different manner. To be competitive in our 21st Century world, collaborative ventures need to be connected in another way, so that power between the people and the organizations involved is roughly balanced. Collaborations that move beyond form and structure—those, like the government/aboriginal peoples agreements, that demand deeper changes recognize the interdependence of multiple parties and replace control with influence. This shift in the balance of power both requires and creates a greater demand for equity in our interpersonal and institutional relationships.
Collaborative Benefits and Coaching
While collaborative arrangements can—and often do—take a toll on people and organizations, they continue to be born at ever increasing rates. Despite great risks, they have increasingly become an irresistible force in the workplace. As we watch new partnerships and alliances being born, the question becomes: why? Why, at this time in our history, have people and organizations all around the world found collaboration so attractive? The reasons vary, of course, according to whoever supplies them. Through my years of working with various collaborative ventures, I would suggest that six reasons are prevalent. In each case, an organizational coach can be of great value in the realization of benefits inherent in each of these six reasons.Download Article 1K Club