(And why do I feel I can answer this in a blog post?)
The meeting of social forces and business forces sets the stage for answering the questions above. Social forces usually take the form of a new group of people in a team ready for action. They have a task and they are geared to complete it.
So far so good.
Business wants to be successful. But business is harsh. We have employment laws, EEO laws, labor and industry laws, OSHA standards, Sarbox, HIPPA, insurance requirements, competitors spying on us, on and on.
When this happens, businesses find it easiest to spout rules. Rules aren’t all bad, but many of them are created with an air of expedience and a core set of assumptions.
Chain of Command and Flow of Information
Perhaps, the biggest assumption is that chains of command and information flows are in some way synonymous. In siloed organizations, information is sucked up one silo and trickled down another. Each link in the hierarchy is a point of information dissemination.
Why is this an assumption? Because historically, information was very expensive to create and usually was disseminated by large, cumbersome and specialized reports.
This meant that people who read these reports were trained in the reports themselves. In turn, this meant that segments of the organization became highly reliant on these specialized reports.
What happened then? The silos began to serve the reports and not the other way around.
Cost of Change Used to be High
With large costly reports and even more costly hard machinery, business of the 20th century had extremely high costs of change. It was rarely feasible to make even minor adjustments to these complex systems.
Organizations grew to assume that silos were the very definition of business. You had to have a marketing silo, a development silo, a management silo, etc.
In a high cost of change, high cost of information transfer world – this almost makes sense.
The cost of this was members of an organization were always thirsty for information. Information became a valuable commodity within companies and therefore represented power. This meant that people made a determination every time they received information. Do I hoard this or share it?
A very combative question and world view.
The value proposition for sharing had to be high in order to get past the opportunity cost of hoarding (saving) it for later use.
This means that teams became rigid. If you moved around too much, you had too much information. You could make connections other people couldn’t. You’d short-circuit the org-chart.
The org chart became the ladder. The ladder became predictable. Predictability became institutionalized.
Today is Different
What we are learning now, is that in a world with a low cost of change and a low cost of information flow – many assumptions from the 20th century no longer apply.
Agile Methodologies are creating new paradigms for the management of small teams.
Lean thinking gives us reasons to rapidly communicate value to the largest possible audience with the least effort.
Social media gives us the principles for collaboration, ad hoc team development, institutional communication, and the broadcasting / retrieval of information.
This creates a more dynamic workplace. Informed workers have the information at their fingertips to make decisions and improvements. Information is now the enabler of power and not the power itself. Power now becomes how much can we execute.
Information in the right hands inevitably leads to conclusions that certain people need to work with certain other people not in their silo. That’s why is was hoarded in the first place. Information is, by its very nature, subversive. Information tells you the right thing to do.
That’s why Stalin limited information flow, it’s why corporations do too.
Ad hoc workgroups and the creation of a workforce that embraces not only change but improvement is at the core of this new paradigm. Dynamic teams built from a diverse talent pool reduces the chance of in-breeding.
These pools can be obtained by having a large staff to draw from (like Microsoft or IBM) or from gathering the right contractors at the right time.
Either way, you are increasing the gene pool of ideas when teams shift. We learn from each other – new partnerships spawn new ideas. Different viewpoints temper group think. Complacency is neutralized.
Without this diversity, without mixing up the gene pool, we get mutations. The people in companies who cannot be fired. The policies that no one will question but everyone loathes. The inability to change even simple things for the good of the organization.
The Soviet Union crumbled under the weight of its own bureaucracy and inefficiencies. Too many resources were going to trying to withhold information and stop people from acting in the best interests of themselves and the state.
Business currently suffers (granted to a lesser extent) from the same affliction. In a time of rapid economic decline, can we continue to support this waste? Business as usual = bailout or collapse, eventually. Business as usual is not sustainable.
Blogged at My House AGAIN due to endless snow in Seattle, WA