Have you ever heard something like the following at your workplace?
- “The Consumer Packaged Goods team won’t use the company’s Slack, because the VP there prefers email.”
- “We don’t use the same naming conventions as the Design department. The managers say our long file names interfere with our workflow.”
- “I don’t feel comfortable telling the SVP about my idea for saving the company money. Someone that high up doesn’t have time for every dumb idea the employees come up with.”
Statements like these, and issues outlined in them, are what I like to call Silos via Org Chart. Information isn’t flowing through your company or organization, not because your company lacks great ideas or communication platforms, but because the way your company is organized allows individuals to put up barriers for whole sections of the company to share information with the rest.
During the Industrial Revolution, the concept of management (in the way we understand it today) was born. As workplaces became more complex, those with information that could serve the business beyond their day-to-day tasks were elevated into positions that were more information-based, and were given more power and responsibility about how that information was gathered, stored, and disseminated.
Often, the management structure of your organization can have as much to do with the success or failure of information sharing as any other factor. Individuals who make decisions about who is allowed to (or feels empowered or comfortable enough to) share information across teams or up the org chart can either encourage or discourage information flow with a single decision. Businesses with weak policies about information-sharing systems can find themselves with many small, self-contained software programs that are exclusive to a certain department, and cannot be shared with the company-at-large because of budgetary, training, or cultural issues (such as language packs or translators).
There’s also a very human factor to this. The higher you move up in an organizational structure, the more protective you may feel about the information you possess that allowed you to increase your status. Therefore, encouraging information flow across the whole company may seem like it’s diluting your own reach of power, or make that information less valuable overall. After all, if an entry-level employee knows the same things you do, then why are you worth your title?
Breaking down these barriers to information silos can often start with a critical look at your org chart. By pulling up a copy of the chart at a high level and having conversations with the people at the top of each branch, an organization (or their knowledge management staff) can uncover issues such as:
- What systems each branch of your org chart uses to store and share information.
- What processes or habits each manager/management team uses to encourage or discourage information flow.
- Terminology differences (naming conventions, acronyms, or even simply what things are called) across your org.
- Policies or norms regarding who is allowed or feels comfortable/empowered to share ideas and issues up the org ladder.
Addressing information sharing issues doesn’t require a company to pick apart its org chart, but knowing that your organizational structure can play a role in how well you share information can help save a lot of time, money and heartache in the long run.