The Boundaryless Organization

There’s a concept known as the boundaryless organization. It has to do with organizations that move to a higher level of functioning defined less by organizational structure and more by innovation through integration of ideas and people. (see also The Boundaryless Organization)

Most organizations grow and evolve to become very structured. It’s our way of putting order to chaos. Departments are formed to develop areas of expertise and efficiency. Yet as organizations evolve, the very structures that make them organized tend to impede their ability to change, innovate and work across boundary lines. Strong organizational units can become silos.

Turf and philosophy, defined over time by those who created and nurtured the organization, inhibit seamless service with other departments. ‘That’s not what we do’ is what you might hear. Services are defined by extensive documentation and policies. They do what they do very well because it is what they know best.

Over time and in a dynamic environment, however, good organizations need to be nimble. They need people who can generate and implement ideas. If an organization is driven more by innovation and customer service principles, and less by organizational parameters, it cross-trains, shares resources and responds more quickly to initiatives. Self-help is maximized and knowledge is given freely. If you ask a question in one area, it can receive an intelligible response from one person or another within a short period of time.

A boundaryless organization studies and implements best practices. If none exist, they write ‘em.

This concept of boundarylessness is central to the idea of integrated services in the Learning Commons. Our Info Desk students and staff will be cross-trained to know and understand a myriad of services in the areas of the library, technology, tutoring and writing programs. They may not go deep in explanations, but they will be able to answer fundamental questions. And if the question requires a deeper level of expertise, the first responder will get the contact information of the requester and make sure an expert gets back to the person inquiring.


Here’s a vision of where, if we blur organizational boundaries, the Learning Commons might be in 2-3 years. Reference services and Info Desk support share information and resources. If someone is busy in one area, another helps out. We wouldn’t have separate desks for Reference and Information, we’re working side-by-side. Downstairs, if a student gets tutoring in PASS, they walk over to the Writing and Reading Center and just as easily get support for writing a paper. Staffs in both programs are cross-trained in the fundamentals of each program and they share information with one another. Students don’t need to know that the organizations are separate. Sure, they may have some distinguishing characteristics and guidelines, but surrounding the student with empowered, service-oriented people should be the first priority.

More vision. Many of our students work for multiple offices during their time in the Learning Commons. There is a Learning Commons Certificate that students can achieve…they must work for at least one semester with all four academic services in the library and demonstrate learning and service objectives.

The whole would be greater than the sum of its parts. We would deliver our traditional services, but develop new services and support structures. We’ll be student- and customer-centered.

Our organizational units made sense once upon a time. But that is a rear view. Strive for superior, integrated service. We should not stand behind definitions of what we’ve done before, but envision what we might become. In that environment, no ideas are off limits. Sacred cows are put out to pasture.

Those are the hallmarks of a top-notch organization.