I picked up on a Forbes article that ran earlier in the year yesterday about the marketing organisation of the future, which reported on the Marketing2020 research initiative from the American Association of National Advertisers, together with the World Federation of Advertisers and EffectiveBrands.

There doesn’t appear to be much being published publicly on the findings, but the Forbes report majors on how marketing organisations need to move from silos to having a “hub-and-spoke” structure – essentially getting everyone at a senior level in a marketing group to talk to each other rather than just reporting “up” to the CMO. That this even needs to be articulated shows much of the challenge of management and leadership in large organisations.

Specialisation is the stock in trade of most large corporates: organising your business around common functions (product development, sales, marketing, support services and so on). The advantage of delivering this kind of organisation is that you have communities of practice – people with similar work work with each other rather than being separated out across the company. But that inevitably leads to “silos” emerging – where organisational boundaries become reinforced as a result of tribalism that is amplified by the shared language and cultures within the business groups leading to miscommunication and rivalry between. This happens at a macro level, with stereotypes being held about “the others” – “IT always say no”; “HR are all soft and fluffy”; “finance are boring”; “marketing spend all their time at lunch” and so on.

Getting people to talk to each other, understand the value that each provides to the business, and breaking down some of those common misconceptions is often a very quick route to providing a better basis for organisational interworking. Doing that on a regular basis, though, is a challenge as reinforcement of tribes remains in the functions.

Some organisations take a different approach. From my experience of the marketing mega-group WPP seems to show that the company acquires new talent and opportunities by purchasing smaller companies and then (with the exception of some shared back-office services) leaves them to operate pretty much as they were. This can often lead to WPP companies competing amongst themselves on work for clients (which some would see in itself as a inefficiency), but means that the “silos” are often relatively small, fully-formed agencies with a broad mix of skills and capabilities within. I guess that at the core of WPP’s acquisition strategy is gaining clients.

Within all of this, though, is the central issue that successful organisational change and development is much more complicated than focus on the “hard” stuff of organograms, processes, systems and business strategy. The softer side of culture, people and their skills and capabilities (including, more than ever before, their ability to communicate with people with different skills and capabilities) is as important. Embedding that need to communicate with others whilst retaining functional expertise (whether at a macro level, or within divisions) is an ongoing thing rather than a one-off change management issue.

Technology plays an interesting role here. Whilst networking and collaboration tools can break down organisational boundaries, than can also reinforce. Take a look at your own LinkedIn use, by way of example. How many people are you connected to outside of your own domain (within your organisation, or more importantly outside)? How many groups are you a member of that aren’t in your own immediate field of expertise? How siloed are you being as a result?

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