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Inter-Silo Communication in IT Organizations

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All companies have Silos. They are probably an unavoidable byproduct of corporate hierarchy. 

IT organizations or corporations that use complex advanced technology are more prone to this than most. IT is comprised of departments that are specialists in a piece of the puzzle. Servers, OS, Middleware, Network, etc--all are specialized. But the problems that exist are not specialized--until they are diagnosed. In a small company it matters less--but in a mid-sized or larger corporation it becomes critical. No individual or group can resolve a tricky problem alone. Troubleshooting requires a joint effort.

Unfortunately, Inter-Silo communication often breaks down causing loss or revenue, clients, good will and frustration within the organization. One major cause of failed Inter-Silo communication is when one or more Silos develop a protectionist perspective that I call Silo Nationalism.

Here are the main causes of protectionism:

(1) Fear 

No group wants to be the Root Cause of the issue.  That is perfectly understandable--but in itself not enough to cause Protectionist attitudes. They also need to be afraid of being wrong.

Since a problem implies error--fear of being the cause is understandable. Yet, what IT Silo is never in error?  Error is part of the process.  Error--must be accepted.  For a Silo or group to own the Root Cause the problem needs to be regarded as part of the process--not failure.

(2) Feeling overworked

Overworked or not--feeling so may lead to lack of cooperation. 

If they are truly overworked the solution is fairly simple--add more staff and/or develop a more efficient workflow. 

If they are not really overworked the issue is more destructive. Possibly they have developed departmental nationalism with an Us v. Them perspective. Correcting this may require significant re-training--or a transfer to the competition.

(3) Inefficient Procedures for Inter-Silo communication.

How easy is it for all the Silos in your organization to come together in a troubleshooting meeting (real or telecom)?

Is it a normal expectation or does it require one group or individual to stand up and make a fuss? 

Are representatives of each Silo required to attend such meetings or is it discretionary? Cooperation is simple when all the individuals involved have a personal commitment--but Don’t rely on that.  Even the most committed people will eventually give up if they can not get cooperation from all of the technical Silos they need for a given issue. 

Create a process that requires the various Silos to join in the process--willingly and without fear of being the Root Cause.

(3) Technical Oversight

This is critical and also quite rare.  Does your organization have a group dedicated to Root Cause resolution that is independent of the various Silos and authorized to require cooperation?  Does this group have the skills to avoid being “smoked” by the technical specialists of the various individual Silos? I have written about this particular requirement in an article called “The Missing Link in IT Management.”

Usually, the next level above the Silos is financial in perspective and is therefore forced to take the input of the highly technical Silo personnel at face value.  This is the problem.  The oversight group needs to be able to see the IT Big Picture--from the technical perspective.  They also need to have a mandate to do so--rather than being forced to spend their time in budget and marketing functions.

(4) Excellent Silos--(but with a few not so excellent Silos in the mix).

The organization can function very well with most of the Silos being unafraid and fully cooperative.  Yet, the ones that are not so cooperative are weak links that frustrate the others.  This causes the better Silos to find ways around having to wait for the protectionist Silo to help.  If they know enough about that Silo’s area of expertise they will find a way around them--but it takes more time.  If they don’t have those skills--problems in that particular Silo’s area may go unaddressed--bringing the entire organization to a lower level of expectation of success.

A corporation that suffers from poor Inter-Silo cooperation and poor communication will see an increase in the tendency to say, “that is not our department.” It costs the organization money--it causes frustration and it can lead to lost clients.

Helpful tools to communication and cooperation.

(1) Expect problems.

Do not make it a worrisome thing for a Silo to be wrong. That leads to hiding mistakes. Expect errors--and put the emphasis on how quickly and permanently they are resolved.

(2) Make on-demand Inter-Silo Bridge Calls a requirement--not just acceptable.  Create an expectation that such meetings will be called and attended.  Make failure to call the such meetings the one failure to fear.

(3) Create a Post-Mortem Oversight Group that can escalate issues to Technical Oversight when issues do not seem to be getting resolved. Big Brother should not be overly concerned with mistakes--instead it should focus on the technical problem resolution process.

(4) Use a secure Instant Messaging system and require team members to be online and accessible.

(5) Avoid security measures that cripple communication.

(6) Roll out a secure method for all IT staffers to easily share their desktops.  A picture is worth a thousand words and watching someone’s screen while they demonstrate what they are seeing is very helpful.  It also allows for cross-training during real problems which is an excellent supplement to classroom training.

The nature of IT is an internetwork comprised of countless opportunities for technical failure.  Your primary defense is a similar internetwork of IT professionals who know that there is a strong expectation of cooperation and communication--who have the communication tools to make that easy--and who know that they are judged primarily on their performance when things go wrong.


Follow Barry Koplowitz on Twitter @bkoplowitz


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