As in former posts, all that is written is right for knowledge workers, and may not fit other organizations, which have different characteristics.
In the past, there were mega-organizations that did everything by themselves, because they could: They calculated costs and decided it is cheaper to in-house manage all facilities, cheaper than buying the facilities from the providers. A fascinating example can be examined in the Army: They have their own medical services (and not only for those soldiers offshore in the battle); they have their own garages, responsible for treating the cars that the officers hold. As years past, we see a change in attitude as the army and other mega-organizations understand that maybe it is wiser to work with out-services. Partly, this change is triggered by re-calculation of costs; not less, results from management considerations: handling all issues, draws our attention and leaves less time for the core issues. I will add, that I think we cannot be the best on everything. Organizational focus has several advantages:
It enables one to be the best in what it focuses (boutique rather than supermarket);
It enables one to get the co-operation from those who specialize in complementary matters; any other way, may lead to competition also on the unique and specialized subjects;
It enables the organization to pit the best resources in the right places.
Are there any disadvantages? Of course there are. Every organization serves customers. The customer does not want to order his tea bag from one supplier, the sugar from another and the spoon and mug from the third and fourth suppliers. He wants a cup of tea. When we, as an organization, define our limits of focus, we have to think about ourselves, bet nevertheless, also think and define things from our customers' point of view. It has to be well defined, where we do not give a complete solution, and relationships with other suppliers must be defined. I will not state that working with other suppliers is always a harmony, but it sure is possible, and in most case, beneficial.
The same questions reside inside the organization, and even inside the unit. But here, I believe, the answers are different. Of course we will distinguish the engineering unit from the manufacturing unit; of course the salesman does not deal with bookkeeping. I am speaking within the unit. We have reached such specializations, that many times every mission relies on bringing together many people for every decision. Knowledge working, naturally, will include a high level of collaboration between the members of a group. The question is how much. Too broad, may result in a situation where integration turns to be a bottle neck and almost impossible. Involving to many people in each task, results higher costs of each project.
How do we find the right path? We have to enlarge the understanding of knowledge workers, who specified in defined topics, also to complementary topics as well. In enlarging the understanding, I mean- operatively: To know, to implement and to further develop. Of course, consultancy of the experts is recommended, but, to some level, we have to learn from them, and consult them in this manner: in order to learn from them and know better for ourselves. So next time, we will be able to answer part of the questions for ourselves and just validate them with the expert. We speak a lot about the synergy from working in collaboration: Understanding complementary expertise enables us experiencing synergy with ourselves. And, when turning to consult others, we come with a better starting point. I am not trying to say that sales and engineering shall be performed by the same person. We have to decide where we cooperate with others. Yet, we shall not over specialize. If every expert will understand a bit more in what the others do, he or she can see a broader picture. The expert will be able to develop more innovative ideas, and will also benefit on the personal level, enriched by the new knowledge and offering our customers better solutions.
I think, that even though the initial drive for understanding others' jobs, may be cutting off expenses and management efforts, the main benefit is conceptual and turn us into better workers.
I can say for myself, that I work in knowledge management, a profession that involves organizations' cultural understanding, computing understanding, processes understanding and content understanding. Indeed four different disciplines. I grew up in IT units. I learned math and computer sciences. As the years past by, I learned to understand and implement also the other disciplines. The way I worked, is always to hire people with complementing education and experience, to learn from them and to teach them. I turned myself into a knowledge management expert: Today, I know how to manage changes; I know how to effectively organize content; I understand in organizational processes and how to draw the knowledge near the existing processes. I think that by combining these different disciplines I can give a better solution to my customers; nevertheless, the major benefit is mine. The combination enables me to better and deeper understand each discipline; the combination enlargers my horizons. I as a person, am so far from where I was ten years ago, when I specified in computers only, also computing expertise is considered prestigious.
I benefited. I believe we all do.