Why single lane swimming is not good for your career

By | March 24, 2017

Organisations are complex entities. They thrive on templates and constrained experimentation. There is a discipline defined by department, position and work responsibilities. Each of them has their own agenda, objectives and SOPs. They are supposed to magically merge for the organisation to attain its goal.

You are one of the units there. You have been given a lane to swim in. You keep focusing on it. And you are excellent in what you do. However, the results are not as per expectations. It takes time to realise that in this weird game, success is not defined solely by how fast you swim in your lane but a lot depend upon the other swimmers in their lanes to reach the end point in a synchronised beat. It is a different kind of synchronised swimming.

Your lane is smooth for you. You know these waters. What you forget is the way it is interconnected with other lanes / departments. Each one of them, have their processes and policies. You are so much busy in your arena that you have no idea of what the life is in other lanes.

Pic freeimage.com/albert_ip

Pic freeimage.com/albert_ip

The bigger the organisation, the higher is the number of lanes and their inter-connectivity, more are the chances of a swimmer being completely unaware of what is happening in the next lane.

Nevertheless, you were hired to swim in one lane. A solo race. You were told so, and you had no reason to doubt. Now, organisations are designed for a complex multi-lane race. You and your progress is dependent on many variables that you cannot control. You have to encourage other lane swimmers to keep pace with you.

In spite of empowered horizontal flat structures, In most organisations, the vertical processes are largely interdependent. The top line and the bottom line move only when there is some action in the middle line. For it, the participants must depend upon communication process and tools cutting through the hierarchical power structure. This leads to informal communication, which only ensure connection and is no guarantee of action.

However, in the best intended and defined structure too, the inefficiencies creeps in and the cost of growth exponentially gets amplified. And we have not even discussed the turf war, that is ever simmering under the conference room carpet.

If you’re happy swimming in your lane, you may find your efforts not generating the right results. I know you can point fingers to the pockets of resistance and inefficiencies. You know the lane and the swimmer dragging the organisation. The potential inefficiencies are quite evident to you.

The only options are, to chill in your lane or wait for time to take its own course.
Why should you react? You are not responsible for events outside your lane.
This is precisely the defeatist attitude that creates the turf wars and insecurities.

In today’s world, you need to work transparently with an attitude of co-creation. The organisations need each swimmer to align with the stated and unstated objective and culture. We all are aware of it.

The organisation management hopes for every person to working towards the same objective. They bank too much on the systems and processes that were designed by consultants. They expect to work like a synchronised machine.
Surprised, they don’t know that an idealistic situation like this does not exist. We do not see the swimmer in one lane helping the swimmer in other lanes or the one in front, productively using the resources and time to help others. Never ever does a swimmer willingly reaches out to help solve a problem or issues in the other lanes.
I expect; you are much more than the narrowly defined expertise in your area of operation. At higher level in organisations, you need to have a diving board view and a willingness to change the style of swimming as per requirement.

To succeed, forget the core area competencies. You should determine business areas beyond it and demonstrate some degree of expertise and involvement in it. Decide and chose between the strategic, functional or operational lane. Always be in a lane, where you will be visibly contributing and be noticed for your work.

The best is to scan the lanes within the organisation and working with a swimmer not afraid of your intervention. One who does not see your attempt as undermining his or her clout. There is nothing official about swimming in more than one lane. And there is no penalty for helping others without neglecting your lane. You must be visibly noticed and appreciated for your presence and contribution in multiple lanes.

Trust me, such swimmers don’t go un-noticed. They may get ignored once or twice. They may not get credit where it is due, but sooner or later, a point comes where they cannot but be acknowledged. They expand the scope of their Brandi.

There is a secret to all this. Do it because you want to and not because you want to be credited for it. Trust me, that acknowledgement and returns are bonuses; they will happen.

Ok, to start, work with the swimmers in the lanes of maximum interdependence. Where even your performance gets enhanced, and a fair degree of mutual trust is needed. Where you and the other swimmer will together fail or succeed.

Now, if someone else is helping you in your arena, don’t get protective about your turf. Be equally open to such inputs. And don’t forget to acknowledge their contribution. Remember, change always start’s at the basic unit, and that’s you.

If you do this, you will be contributing towards building a transparent, health, co-creation based work environment. Maybe at some stage, you will swim in a pool with no lanes. Maybe your Brand-i will be that much more powerful and evolved.


First published in MXMINDIA.COM under the wednesday column KOTMARTIAL
Sanjeev Kotnala with 28 years of corporate experience is the founder of Intradia World; a Brand, Marketing & Management Advisory that focusses in Ideation, Innovation and design thinking. Email sanjeev@intradia.in tweet @s_kotnala web: www.intradia.in www.sanjeevkotnala.com.