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Interact

To interact is to produce an effect on or carry out with others, to occur mutually with or communicate with each other. We must learn to interact well with others—to cooperate between disciplines and across functional bound­aries in our organizations, and to collaborate successfully with our customers and our suppliers. One key is to learn how to organize for effective communication and cooperation.

Robert Waterman [4] describes an organizational form that transcends organizational charts, functions, job descrip­tions and bureaucracy to "embrace the new." He calls it adhocracy: ad hoc problem-solving groups formed outside the normal bureaucracy, usually as a temporary move to deal with a particular situation. Waterman cites numer­ous examples of highly successful use of adhocracy, when the right group of people were pulled together to cut across old boundaries and go after an opportunity. The key ingredient was effective interaction among the ad hoc team participants—communicating, sharing, and cooperating to meet their common goal.

A company in our area recently reduced its new product development time, from conception to initial shipment, from three years to less than six months by employing two cross-functional teams: one to determine the feasibility and the structure/approach, the second to carry out a very successful introduction of a major new product even faster than planned and more effectively than ever before. The development team decided to cross- train themselves, undertook non-traditional functions they recognized the need for, and vastly improved their process for new product design—development—procurement—manufacturing— introduction. They also learned to communicate more effectively, cooperate more completely, and in general to interact much more efficiently.

Garwood and Bane [3] point out that the success of em­ployee involvement programs depends on communication skills and leadership skills: guiding, facilitating, listening and responding well. Trane Company, for example, gave all employees 50 hours of communications, problem-solv­ing and team- building training before implementing their successful employee involvement program. They also note that ad hoc teams, by bringing together people from across the organization chart, create an organization of outsiders, which correlates with Joel Barker's contention that para­digm shifters are often outsiders without an intimate

knowledge of the field (and no heavy investment in the status quo).

Wal-Mart has had great success with their innovative approaches to satisfying customers' needs. Stalk, Evans and Shulman [10] state that these successes are made practical by frequent, informal cooperation among stores, distribution centers, and suppliers, and with little central control. Their employees are strongly encouraged to interact effectively.

Our "disastrous problem of the brick walls between 'functions'" stands directly in the way of real profitability according to Kobu and Greenwood [11], and what's even worse, we "keep piling even more bricks on these 'walls' by physically separating the functions (sometimes even in different cities." Obviously, we must find ways to break down these "walls" and build the proper interaction among the functions.

Nakane [12] suggests that a different kind of organization is needed, one with easily permeable walls between departments. He states that Japanese organizations are known for informal, easy horizontal communications, but still have too many barriers to good communication. More organizational reform is needed there, as in the U.S. Computers can facilitate communication and interaction between locations (with EDI, for example),

Taking a slightly different look at interaction, we see companies gaining significant advantage by establishing strategic linkages with their customers, with their distribution-chain partners, and with their suppliers. These trading partnerships usually result in a tremendous improvement in communication, sharing, mutual understanding and cooperation (to the mutual benefit of both partners) and signify a major, positive change in the relationship between the two companies.

The best such partnerships establish linkages in several functional areas and at various levels of each organization (e.g., the customer's inventory analyst, distribution center receiving foreman, accounts payable supervisor, and EDI manager establish regular communication with the supplier's customer service rep, distribution center shipping foreman, billing supervisor, and EDI manager respectively) instead of the traditional single points of contact (salesman and buyer).

Information Systems are frequently the "glue" that cements these trading partnerships. Electronic Document Interchange (EDI) is one very common use, with the customer transmitting purchase orders to the supplier, and the supplier sending order acknowledgments, advance ship notices, and invoices to the customer. The customer may then transmit his remittance advice and payment (via Electronic Funds Transfer) back to the supplier. Several other mutually agreed-upon transactions may also be exchanged.

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