ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Overlaps, gaps and Silos

Overlaps and Gaps

I’ve discovered that it isn’t unusual for organizations to have more than one department taking responsibility for the same activities as another department, with no one knowing that this redundancy exists.  At the same time, there are usually gaps where no one group is assuming responsibility for a set of activities, each assuming that it is being handled elsewhere.

Interestingly enough, these problems can be found in organizations of all sizes, both public and private.
Let me give you one example of how I discovered and solved these problems for one of my organizational clients.

While working in a division of a mid-sized organization (approximately 500 employees) I met with department heads and key staff of each of the dozen or so departments in this division.  I asked each group to share with me their key areas of responsibilities.  I jotted these on flip chart paper and then had them blown up into large poster size pages.

These enlarged posters were put up along the walls of a conference room in what appeared to be the most logical order.  

I invited the leadership of the division and the leaders and key people in each of the departments to a meeting and had them walk around the room, looking at what had been entered on the poster.

They discovered the overlap.  They discovered the gaps.  They were shocked to learn that none of this had been discovered before - and their VP was embarrassed.  There had been a lack of cooperation between members of the management team of this division.

Our next step was to have managers agree as to which group would assume responsibility for the areas of overlap – freeing the other group to stop handling these activities. 

It took longer to actually identify the gaps and make plans to have these tasks handled effectively.  It was strange to learn that nothing had been done about some of these things for months – and of course the question was, “Do we really need to pay attention or just leave it to die?”  That led to some interesting discussions.

Silos and Lack of Cooperation

In another case, we discovered that various design-engineering groups refused to cooperate with each other and each designed their own graphics, art work, shortcuts, etc., so that there was no consistency or continuity in the look they provided their customers.

This was because there was no cooperation at the management level of this engineering organization.
When asked to cooperate with other design groups, the response was “We did our job, let them do theirs.”  It took quite some time and persuading to come to an agreement to common looks, etc.

Unless there is open communication and cooperation at every level in an organization – especially the upper management team – problems like these will continue to exist.

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