Silos / Bubbles

One of the biggest problems within a large corporate organisation is the remoteness of the various teams that make it work.  The company I work for suffers from this, at the European headquarters each team does its own thing but often has little or no understanding of the rest of the organisation.

I always thought about this syndrome as bubbles, the image of each team residing in a bubble having little or no interaction with those surrounding them and no real idea where they fit within the overall dynamic of the organisation.  I call them bubbles but apparently the business buzz word for them is silos.

The result of this is that workers, for the best of reasons, cannot work in the most efficient manner.  The answer?  Take members of each team and move them around their surrounding teams.  When a team member learns what happens in a process that they have a part in, they learn to work more intelligently.  They can return to their own team and bring an understanding with them.

In the past people have tried open plan offices as an antidote to bubbles but this is not to be recommended if there is a lot of telephone use.  From personal experience I know that there is a critical mass when the noise level is open plan offices stops them from functioning properly.  Thankfully, the ubiquitous cube farm hasn’t reared its ugly head in the UK yet, there has to be a nice balance between these extremes.

There needs to be some partitions between work areas, otherwise it can e like working in a railway station.  People need a comfort zone, we aren’t naturally comfortable in a huge crowd nor are we at our best if we are herded into boxes like battery hens, in these circumstances we become isolated and fail to fully understand what part they play in an organisation.

The end result of people working in bubbles is that a customer or an external worker who is trying to get information or service ends up being passed from one department to another with nobody taking ownership of the issue.  Nobody benefits from this, it costs in terms of worker hours, customer satisfaction, operating costs and a myriad of other downsides.

An example of this occurred this week, a customer called in to head office; I had ordered a spare part for them, which I was waiting for.

The day after I ordered the part the customer rang complaining that it hadn’t arrived.  I was called and asked where it was.  Being field based and having no sight of the ordering system I could not add any value to the enquiry, and I said so.  Apparently it was my job to chase orders so I had to stop work and call into head office to find out who I could speak to in order to get an updated order status.

Eventually I was able to get through to a person who, laughingly enough, was sat next to the person who called me first.  We discovered what the order status was and I was able to pass this information onto the customer.  I remarked that it would have been easier to get the person sat next door to simply ask the question and let the customer know directly.

As it was we had to make 5 phone calls, I had to find a place to park and spend several minutes looking up phone numbers, being passed through, put on hold, asking the same question five times over, getting three different answers and two “Don’t knows” was, to me a frustrating waste of time and money.