I have a silo in an organization of under 20 people. Actually, it's about five silos that everything needs to go up to approval for, come back down with revisions, go back up... and we keep running in circles.

The silos exist because that's the way it's always happened-- I've attempted directly asking to stop this madness, but it exists because they're afraid of quality being poor, and have no faith in anyone. I see everyone trying to point fingers in a polite way the moment anything goes wrong.

How can I break all these vertical management silos and have a straight-forward flow that we don't need three managers and two staff working on 100 words at a time, when they see (only one aspect of) quality being so important?

In my specific case, it's emails that get sent out to small mailing lists of under 20 people (ie, thanks for coming to this event). Nobody has formal training in writing.

5 Answers 5


The madness will stop when one person is held accountable for the results -both good and bad.

  • I think creating an accountability specification would be ideal. Someone signs off on meeting requirements XYZ for a task, where XYZ was decided by all silos. My concern with this is meta-decision making.
    – Incognito
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 22:07

It is not culture. It is the structure of your command and control system. Your colleagues are being incented to behave this way. As long as you have a line of authority established, where someone is being held accountable for another person's work, you will have this up and down approval thing to some degree. If you want it to change, break the current structure and reestablish a new one. Easier said than done. It is a significant change even for the size of your organization and you can expect a good dose of adverse sequelae.



Seriously though this is a tough one...

Thoughts/options (based on working in large financial institutions w/similar issues) -

  • Find an ally high up on the chain of command who you can use as leverage
  • Meetings, oddly enough. Break the email chains by making decision makers & stake holder meet. Same for developers if they are not talking.
  • Rigorous reporting. Be brutal in the status reports... don't name names but name departments (e.g. late, waiting for approval from Dept A.)
  • Don't be afraid to flag items "red" if they are late

Essentially your left with communication... You need to stop the finger pointing by raising issues right away and get people to make decisions. Overall it's not easy and might even be impossible. In our case we still have silos, but are getting things to move forward by constantly poking and prodding (via reports, meetings, calls, etc.)


Your question isn't clear on where you sit in this silo'd group. If you are at the top, you have a bit more influence. That said, the techniques are going to be pretty much the same no matter where you sit.

You can't use role power to change something like this. So even if you are at the top, you can't just make it change. It is happening for a reason.

The first thing you need to do is understand why. Why does this culture of communication exist. The why is is critical. You have to define the present condition in detail. If you don't know where you are, you can't draw a map to where you want to go.

Next, look at your oganizational influences. Companies/People/Countries/Cultures/Groups have goals, values, priorities. These can have a major impact on your organization and effect how you make changes.

When you are done with this, then you understand where you are and what influences are impacting where you want to go. Now you can start going. I agree with edgaralgernon that meetings are a vital part of this. But they have to be the right meetings.

Meetings need to be effective and result oriented.

1- Define the purpose and goal of the meeting: A meeting invite with just a subject line is a meeting people are not incented to attend. You need to define what the purpose of the meeting is. You need to define what the high level outcome goal of the meeting is (a decision on test strategy for the Q3 release)

2- Agenda: You need a time boxed agenda published before the meeting. Then you need to post it. Time boxes should be clock based, not time based. At 1:00PM Meeting Starts, at 1:10 QA presents current status, At 1:15 we discuss options, At 1:40 we review options.

3- Understand the difference between a "Choice" and a "Decision." One of the biggest problems I've run into is this problem. Companies are really good at choosing a direction. They are horrible at deciding a direction. The difference? A decision defines "Who, What, When" Before leaving a meeting, you need to determine these three things and document them. Otherwise you just chose a direction, but it can be chosen again at the next meeting.

I recommend the Manager-Tools podcasts on "Effective Meetings" and "Making Decisions Effective."

Best, Joel BC

  • I am a silo, second from the top.
    – Incognito
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 22:05

David & Mark both made great accountability comments. I would also add that trust plays a large role.

Why do your silo's not trust the work they are each doing? The answer to that question may help with enforcing accountability and enabling your "silos" to trust the work they are each performing.

  • "we all miss things" and "I came from country X so I'm not good at this thing" (key decision maker).
    – Incognito
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 22:09
  • +1 Trust can definitely play a factor. And where trust is lacking, at least an accountability structure which rewards performance. Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 22:10

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