Break down the walls

If we don’t bust down the industrial-age silos in our organizations, their walls will inevitably crash down on us. Just ask the News department that had walls between print and the Web.

Three years ago Jon Husband called for an amalgamation of support functions in the networked workplace or eOD (e-OrganizationalDevelopment). Luis Suarez has suggested the merging of knowledge management and learning. Most recently Euan Semple calls for combining HR, Communications and IT. Euan says that HR are “maintainers of order, rather than enablers of staff”; that Communications manages rather than enables communication; while IT controls risk instead of enabling the business. These are generalizations, but expose the weaknesses of our current management system.

I’ve recommended before that a wide range of silos (HR, Training, Personnel, KM, OD, Communications, PR, Marketing, etc.) should be incorporated into one support function. Individuals could have a variety of roles, depending on organizational needs but all have to be focused on the organization. Separate departments create tribes and internal cultures that may be at cross-purposes with other departments or the overall organization. With hyper-linked information and access to expertise, not only are internal departments of less value, they could subvert the organization’s future by not responding quickly and appropriately.

I know that there’s more than one way to achieve better functioning organizations but tearing down the walls is a good place to start.

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6 Responses to “Break down the walls”

  1. Howard Johnson

    Really good point! I recently blogged about the problems of crystalized organizational processes or individual thinking schemas. Many ways of working that were once very functional have become fossilized behavior and just get in the way. But when you find these old ways inside departmental tribes, I can see how they would become intractable.
    Also, I used work in helping people to get jobs. We always tried to contact operations people because they always had great creative ideas. HR seldom liked these ideas even after they proved productive. And, if our only option was to go through HR from the beginning, we just didn’t bother.

  2. Luis Suarez

    Hi Harold! Great blog post, once again and I think you surely are on to something! I must say that as I was reading through it I just couldn’t help nodding that something like this would eventually happen, and perhaps not for the right argument, i.e. breaking down the silos, but more because of cost cutting happening across the board. I suspect we will be seeing this amalgamation of roles, departments, organisations coming together as one single support organisation based on the fact, amongst many others, that it will be “cheaper” to maintain and still get all of the benefits, i.e. breaking of the silos and allow for knowledge workers to participate even more from a knowledge sharing culture, than whatever they have done in the past.

    I just hope that we would not be taking with us all of the things that didn’t work from the past and perhaps start with a clean sheet where the right focus is placed on knowledge sharing as a human / social activity, because I sense that’s what’s going to differentiate the business of the 20th century and that one of the 21st!

    Thanks again for a lovely post and looking forward to reading plenty more in the near future!

  3. Karyn Romeis

    Nicely argued, Harold. I’m more than a little tired of the siloes myself. I find Ricardo Semler’s books an inspiration. There’s a man who knows how to be a ‘workafrolic’. I would love to work with or for an organisation like his. I’ll bet his staff turnover figures have set records… at the low end of the spectrum. Who wouldn’t be happy working in an organisation that values and empowers you as an individual?

    Semple makes a good point about the role of HR – which is as it shouldn’t be. They are increasingly the gatekeepers of legislation within the organisation, instead of being the people who facilitate personal development and the appropriate use of the talents within an organisation.

    Too often, organisations spend a fortune on external consultants, when the necessary skills actually exist within surprising places in the organisation. Unnoticed because their job titles or siloes keep their heads below the current parapet.

  4. Harold Jarche

    @Howard Your experience shows that a support function is just that – support.

    @Luis I too think that that the wrong drivers may force the change, which is why vision & leadership is needed now.

    @karyn I know of Semler’s work but haven’t read his books. I’ll have to add those to my reading list, thanks. BTW, what’s wrong with spending a fortune on external consultants? ;-)

  5. Luis Suarez

    Hi Harold! Indeed! I really like your additional comment on vision & leadership *now*! I think the keyword there is doing it *now* rather than regreting it later! Eventually, I guess we will have to push for the change ourselves and force that leadership to pay attention on what really matters ;-) heh