Last week I wrote about connectivity as a key contributor to strengthening resilience in a living system. When our organizational systems are interconnected and connected to their external environment, they are more adaptive, innovative, and evolving. These behaviors strengthen their resilience and explain why connectivity is a principle of resilient systems.

Where Henry Ford Went Wrong

But our organizational structures have been influenced by the assembly lines of the early 1900s. Henry Ford used to have small teams work together to build a Model T car. It was satisfying for the workers, who gained pride in their craft. But this integrated way of building cars needed to be faster. Switching to an assembly line where individuals focused on individual repetitive tasks along an assembly line-built cars faster, but it also made the system more fragile at the same time.

Ford went from an integrated, wholistic, meaningful, and interconnected work environment to one built on separation.

At the Ford Motor Company car museum are stories of workers who experienced depression and loss of self-worth as this switch occurred. To further this separation, American engineer Frederick Winslow Talyor did time-motion studies to make the assembly lines work more efficiently. Also, at this time, our society was shifting from self-employment as a farmer or carpenter to the rise of organizations. All these organizations were modeled after how machines worked with a priority on efficiency in organizational design. We now know that these kinds of organizational designs facilitate the separation of functions and the creation of silos.

Similar Failures in Today’s World

I am often asked to consult with organizations that want to eliminate their silos and become more integrated and interconnected. In one organization, the silos of sales and service departments were at odds. The service department saw the sales team as promising too much. And the sales team created bids on work assuming a reasonable cost-oft-time to install their product.  The profit margin for the company was estimated through the proposals from the sales team. But the silo orientation of the service department would often put too many people on the installation to get the work done faster, diminishing the estimated profit from the job.

This is a typical example of how departments working in silos can make decisions that don’t benefit the overall company. The silo mentality separates and compartmentalizes the needs and priorities of each department. The absence of connectedness creates tension between departments and causes increased fragility within the organization.  This separation mentality often exists within organizational communication strategies where some people are informed, but others are not. Silos and separation exist in places where information and feedback are not widely shared. And in my experience, dysfunction always exists when feedback is dampened down or avoided by departmental leaders.

Separation = Fragility, Connectedness = Resilience

Read here to learn about the unique “sounds” of interdependence.  

I am sure those of you reading this blog will have your own examples of organizational experiences where the culture reinforced silos, competition, or even second-class citizenship in the organization. When I encounter these dynamics in an organization, there is always a waste of time, attention, and resources that accompany these behaviors. I have never seen an organization with these dynamics that couldn’t save time, money, and drama if they strengthened the connectivity in their organization. So, as positional leaders, we need to ask:

  • How well connected are we in this organization?
  • Where is autonomy and separation occurring in our organization?
  • What is the cost of this autonomous behavior to our organization?
  • How can we support and reinforce connection and interconnection within our organization?

I love hearing more stories from our own experiences. Please share them in the comments if you’re so inclined!