Sanjeev Kotnala: Why single lane swimming is not good for your career?

22 Mar,2017

By Sanjeev Kotnala


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 synchronized 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.


The bigger the organisation, the higher is the number of lanes and their inter-connectivity, higher the chances of a swimmer 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 topline and the bottomline move only when the middle line moves. 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 pocket 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 organizations 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. Swimmer in one lane helping the swimmer in other lanes. The one in front, productively using the resources and time to help others. A swimmer willingly without expectations reaching out and helping to solve problem, 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. A lane, where you will be able to visibly contribute.


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 Brand-i.


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 starts at the basic unit, and that is 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.


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