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.

2 thoughts on “The Boundaryless Organization

  1. 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.

    What if instead of the first responder making sure an expert gets back to them the first responder gets back to them personally?

    The first responder could contact the expert for a solution then present the solution to the end user. This is not always possible, but when it is the end user only has to deal with one person and the first responder learns one more solution. People would rather hear "I'll find that out and get back to you shortly" than "I'll have someone contact you soon."

    This is as much about the first responder learning as about servicing the end user. With student workers coming and going frequently and only working a few hours per week while their here this type of just-in-time knowledge transfer is great training.

  2. I wrote the following due to the traffic on allemp prior to the current debates but didn't send it as I judged it would just add to the noise. This blog seems like a better place to present my arguments and suggestions.

    IMHO the psu-allemp is out of control. In a lot of cases messages are
    posted 2 or more times, most of these to inform the community of events
    that should be on a central calender coupled with a link to further
    details. Also the organizations involved could provide an announce
    list. Interested individuals could sign on to receive reminders about
    upcoming events. From my view at the bottom of the pile it is becoming
    easier to just delete any allemp and allfac emails as sorting through
    them is time consuming and not very productive. Furthermore, it is
    hard to see “real� emails through all the list emails.

    Another area of concern is the use of “to� and “cc� addresses to
    people both inside and outside the PSU community. Any address put in
    these fields is visible and available to everyone who receives these
    mass mails. While I am sure no one YOU know would give these addresses
    to a spammer, it only takes one co-opted machine to compromise every
    address in the email. If you need to send a bam to other addresses the
    "bcc" addresses should be used.


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