Boundaryless is a neologism that has become a slogan of sorts in business practice, usually in the form of “a boundaryless organization.” Such an organization is supposed to transcend the rigid lines of bureaucracy and divisional boundaries within a corporation and ignore the borders where the corporation itself is separated from its markets, customers, and “stakeholders.” The emphasis of the boundaryless organization is on fluid and adaptive behavior modeled on organic structures rather than mechanical. Change is a welcomed constant. Professionals inside the organization form networks and links and emphasize collaboration on projects. Business relationships are informal and people come together when they share a common need or problem. Employees are grouped by competencies centered around technology, information, and expertise. Global operations and, indeed, the outsourcing of labor, are implicit in the concept and, for some, have negative connotations.
According to Russell H. Mouritsen writing in American Salesman—and others—Jack Welch coined the term. Welch was the larger-than-life Chairman and Chief Executive of General Electric between 1981 and 2001, now retired. His immense popularity, in turn based on GE’s performance during his tenure, have made him a management guru. Not surprisingly, a Google Book Search conducted early in 2006 identified 288 books which carry at least some reference to the “boundaryless organization.”
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To be successful in the new boundaryless world of business requires a person to be a team player. Employees must feel at ease in free-form work structures and situations that may border on the chaotic. The tremendous networking and linking that occur changes the role of employees to that of consultants. Employees no longer work in isolation but work as part of a team on broad, company-wide projects, like quality management, justin-time methods, lean production, and supply-chain management. Strategic alliances and collaborative arrangements, often between competitors and vendors, are another facet of the boundaryless organization.
Because technology plays a major role as a communication medium in the boundaryless organization, much work is done from a distance via e-mail, phone, and fax.
Less work is done in traditional face-to-face settings. Virtual collaboration makes it easier to use the expertise of a broader range of individuals. With telecommuting, international employees are more easily made a part of all business processes. Employees often like the freedom that boundaryless work offers them, particularly with virtual teams and more flexible work plans, arrangements, and schedules.
Boundaries and organizational affiliations are also blurring as large organizations are teaming up with small businesses and consultants, as well as with other informal networks of groups, professional organizations, and businesses. The emphasis is on expertise and not location or affiliation. Employees may be part of multiple networks and organizations in the new workplace. Because employees change roles and affiliations, the responsibility for training, education, and development now rests more with the employee and not specifically with the organization.
Research suggests that even in a boundaryless organization, some boundary-spanning activities must take place.
These include creating and maintaining a common task and group climate to focus groups and teams on the tasks at hand and on overall strategies. As organizations restructure, these boundary-spanning activities change as well.