Borderless Working: 4 Critical Capabilities

To succeed in today’s business world, organizations—and their employees—must learn to be agile, innovative, technologically smart, and highly adaptable.

By Terence Brake, Head of Learning & Innovation, TMA World

Visualize a game of soccer. It’s nearly kickoff time and two teams with 11 players are facing each other on a field bounded by white lines. Goal posts are positioned at each end of the field, and other white lines mark the halfway point and penalty areas. Players line up on the field depending on the role they play—defense, midfield, and attack. The crowd around the field is electric with tension as they wait for the kickoff. The referee makes a final check that all is in order for the game to begin, and the whistle blows.

Now imagine the scene at kickoff if all the white lines disappeared. Not only that, but the goal posts keep moving, and other teams with an unlimited number of players are able to come onto the field and play. Anyone from the crowd also can join the game at any time. Multiple referees also can take part, each one playing by a different set of rules. All of these participants don’t have to be on the physical field to play, they also can take part on the game’s virtual field.

In this fantastical scenario, we have the new business game: boundaries disappearing, constant and unpredictable change, new competitors emerging all the time, unpredictability, complexity, and staggering ambiguity. To succeed in this new world, organizations must learn to be agile, innovative, technologically smart, and highly adaptable.

What about the people working in these organizations? They can be called upon to work with anyone, anywhere, at any time, and from any device—across a city, country, or even across continents.

Besides working in this environment, I recently wrote a free e-book on the new borderless workplace (available for download at During my reflections and research for the book, I found that four capabilities were critical to being effective in this new world of work:

  1. Matrix working: Performing well in complex organizations. There is a bewildering array of organizational structures in business today with a variety of names, e.g., latticed, multidimensional, and networked. Many of them integrate some form of matrix, requiring an expansive mindset, as well as a range of demanding personal and social skills, such as self-management, polarity thinking, and conflict management and negotiation.
  2. Borderless collaboration: Working well with others—often virtually—across internal and external borders to co-create something no individual could have created alone. Leveraging talent within cross-border collaborations is now an integral component of competitive advantage. Unfortunately, cross-border collaboration often fails to deliver because of a lack of awareness of the inevitable challenges such as isolation, fragmentation and confusion, and the necessary countermeasures needed to get results.
  3. Digital fluency: Making the most effective use of new communications and collaboration technologies. For many of us, our workplace is a computer and the digital connections it enables. Typically, the main digital fluency challenge is not learning the technical skills for using the technology, but the media skills for getting the best out of each technology, e.g., being engaging, understandable, and persuasive.
  4. Cultural intelligence: Working inclusively with individual and group differences. Value and style differences are inevitable in a workplace that cuts across national, organizational, and professional cultures. The challenge is not to eliminate differences, but to apply different strategies for managing them most effectively and creating value from them. Strategies can include adapting, blending, co-creating a shared culture, and dividing (you do it your way and we’ll do it ours because our differences don’t have a negative impact on our results).

In this monthly online column, I’m going to explore the borderless workplace with you: our ability to work with anyone, anywhere, at any time, and from any device.

As a starting point, think honestly about how well you demonstrate a borderless way of thinking and doing. As always, self-awareness is the pathway to growth, and asking questions is the gateway to the path. Here are seven questions to get you started:

  • Do I invest time in networking beyond my current work boundaries?
  • Do I share my knowledge and ideas with others, freely?
  • Do I stay open to learning from anyone, anywhere?
  • Do I create shared understandings across borders?
  • Do I build and maintain trusting relationships over distances through technology?
  • Do I practice both/and versus either/or thinking?
  • Do I collaborate effectively on virtual teams?

It would be great to hear your thoughts; please contact me at

Terence Brake is the head of Learning & Innovation at TMA World (, which provides blended learning solutions for developing talent with borderless working capabilities. He is also the author of e-book “The Borderless Workplace.” Visit to download a free copy.

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