Change Management Meets Org Design: Building a Borderless Culture

Marian Cook

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In our interconnected world, ideas, news, commerce, economic turbulence, and pandemics spread easily. People, however, are not nearly as frictionless; we remain tribal, and silos still exist.


Organizational silos, or collections of specialists, are drivers of efficiency—to a point. That efficiency is less than it could be when people do not collaborate or innovate. For example, silos at the State of Illinois have resulted in:

  • dozens of separate technology organizations, budgets, and staff.
  • old, duplicative, unsupported systems.
  • out-of-balance cost structures.
How, then, can an organization:

  • break down organizational borders?
  • signal change and redesign culture in a way that sustains over time?
  • encourage innovation and bring fresh perspectives in?
How can an organization remove borders within and between itself and the outside world in a way that enables change at a pace it has never seen before? How can we create a borderless culture?

One Solution (of Many)

Establish collaborative communities within government, between governments, and between the state government and the outside ecosystem to work across silos as a key enabler of sustainable change.

As was mentioned in a previous guest blogger post, twelve different types of collaborative communities have implemented a phased approach in the state's technology areas over the last year to:

  • collaborate: accelerate transformation and consolidation
  • externalize: get fresh perspectives on the enterprise
  • innovate: ignite innovation
Below is an overview of how we are removing borders through several examples of collaborative communities.

CIO Councils

This meeting is for a full day every other month. The meeting brings together over 60 agency CIOs. The intent is to break down silos and get input, feedback, and buy-in to change efforts. CIO Councils include:

  • internal leadership speakers: governor, deputy governor, state COO, and state agency directors bringing enterprise perspectives
  • CEO speaker series: high-level, private sector executives, like the CEOs of Orbitz and 1871, leading discussions on new topics
  • entrepreneur showcases: startups present to agency CIOs
  • leadership development programs for agency CIOs and their teams
  • the encouragement of innovation through an assessment and recognition process
Agency innovation days find, highlight, and leverage the many innovations throughout the state.

Agency CIO Working Groups

Before creating efficiencies via consolidation, there were few enterprise strategies. Within IT, enterprise strategies that did exist were hard to enforce. To fix this problem, agency CIO working groups were formed to create and execute enterprise IT strategies and action plans for:

  • cybersecurity
  • analytics
  • mobility
  • development
  • platforms
  • website technology and content management
  • workflow automation
  • cloud
  • integrity and fraud
  • GIS
  • small agency solutions
  • innovation
Centers of Excellence

Over time, agency CIO working groups evolve into Centers of Excellence (CoE). A CoE is a virtual team of people across the organization sharing expertise, best practices, and assets to achieve business results.

There are, for example, many people in different agencies that are working on data analytics but do not interact in any way. The CoE is a way they can come together to improve skills, leverage assets, and create standards. This teamwork increases productivity, improves quality, and reduces costs.

At the state, we started with two Centers of Excellence: Internet of Things (IoT) and Data Analytics. Two more emerged toward the end of the year: Blockchain and Innovation. Several more are in the pipeline.

These are examples of many that are breaking down internal barriers. Externally, we have many we can learn from. To interact with the private sector and academia, two strategic advisory boards were created.

1. Smarter Illinois Advisory Board

The purpose of this advisory board is to bring the best minds together to help the State of Illinois create value through the use of Smart State solutions built on IoT technology.

A state can utilize many relevant solutions from the Smart Cities portfolio. A state can also build key policies and regulations that enable state agencies, local governments, and the private sector to capitalize on them.

Members of this board include technology and thought leaders in IoT in the private sector, non-profits, academia, and philanthropy. The board has subcommittees focused on strategy, technology, workforce, finance, and policy and regulation.

2. Governor's Technology Advisory Board

The purpose of this advisory board is to tap into the best minds for organizational transformation guidance, best practices, and global trends.

The end goal is to make the state easier to work with and more efficient, accessible, and competitive. The board consists of leaders from Illinois-based, multinational corporations, incubators, and academic institutions.

The board has subcommittees focused on strategy, customer centricity and engagement, data-driven value creation, enterprise security, workforce, and enterprise IT.

These advisory boards also interact with the Centers of Excellence and our Smart State initiative.

A Smart State is more than the statewide implementation of IoT technologies, and it drives significant interaction with other governmental bodies and private sector parties.

Per the Smart Cities Council, a Smart State is one that dramatically increases the pace at which it improves its sustainability and resilience by fundamentally improving how it:

  • engages society
  • applies collaborative leadership
  • works across disciplines and systems
  • uses data information and modern technologies
Smart States provide better services and quality of life to those in and involved with the state—like citizens, businesses, and visitors.

Illinois is the first state in the nation to target such a comprehensive strategy. Through this initiative, the state increases its interactions with and learnings from the world outside its walls by including city and county governments and the private sector and academia. We are even reaching internationally through Smart State partnerships with other countries.

Are We borderless Yet?

No, we are not there yet. But there has been enthusiastic and generous participation by the members of all these silo-busting efforts—from internal Centers of Excellence to external advisory boards.

According to the agency CIOs, these collaborative communities bring tremendous strategic and tactical value. Advisory board members and Smart State participants are always eager to engage and give back. The increased understanding has been tremendous and the impact significant.

Removing borders within the state and between the state and the rest of the world is a successful strategy to accelerate collaboration, learning, and the transformation of the State of Illinois.

Marian is currently an Artificial Intelligence Strategist for Ageos. Immediately prior, she was the Chief Strategy Officer for Innovation and Technology for the State of Illinois, having moved from the private sector to public service in 2015. She started as a systems engineer with IBM, re-engineering processes, implementing systems, and creating business and technology strategies. Moving to international consulting firms, she worked globally, developing business growth and turnaround strategies.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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