Most organizations are hierarchical. This way of managing means that responsibility gets divided up into functions and the ‘head’ of each function is responsible for the results of that function and the budget allocated. Isn’t this rational? After all, the notion of hierarchy is as old as the bible. Literally. Moses was introduced to it when his father-in-law, Jethro, suggested that instead of doing everything himself at the risk of exhaustion, he appoint people to whom he could delegate instruction with increasing levels of responsibility.
However, there is an unfortunate and paralyzing by-product of hierarchy when applied to organizations: they get divided up into silos. This creates completely artificial barriers. Why? Because the work organizations carry out is intrinsically collaborative and built on a network of conversations. Each of these conversations affects outcomes and results. In other words, work is a flow. Silos, hierarchy and functions interrupt that flow to the detriment of the organization as a whole.
Under pressure: squeezing the CIO
Almost all of these conversations/flows rely on some form of technological support in order to achieve their goal. What is the role of a CIO? To strategically govern information systems to support business activities with the aim of creating a competitive advantage. Unfortunately for the CIO, they find themselves between a rock and a hard place. This is because they have to facilitate the flow of work but organizations are bound up in their silos. This uncomfortable position manifests itself every day for the CIO in the following 7 symptoms or what in the Theory of Constraints we call “undesirable effects”:
- A high number of projects that have to be managed simultaneously;
- Resources available are not always sufficient for the number of projects;
- High variation in the requests coming from various people in the organization;
- “Internal customers” have little inclination towards working in a project-like manner;
- People working on projects may experience a misalignment between responsibility and authority;
- General underestimation of the effort required to complete a project;
- Little inclination among internal customers to assess and accept the problems and interdependencies of a project.
Finding the flow
Unless an organization can find a way to overcome the conflict of the CIO who is trapped between silos and flow, the pressure can only increase. Moreover, the organization will continue to be hampered in their ability to implement technological solutions that truly serve the business.
This post is the second in our new series on the changes brought by technology, the way work will have to evolve, the emerging role of the CIO as a leader and designing and operating a systemic organization. In the next post we will look at the path towards a solution that will allow the CIO to cure silo sickness and really do their job: facilitate the success of the company.
See also: You Say You Want a Revolution: Where Digital Transformation is Taking You
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About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management, founded by Dr. Domenico Lepore. Angela’s new business novel+ website The Human Constraint looks at how Deming and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation.