Pipeline Lifeline

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/fd/Product_Pipeline.jpg

I’ve been thinking about how information travels through organizations. There are formal ways – when you are done with this report send it to these people – and informal ways – “Hey Pat, what do you think of this?”.

Proximity is important for the informal communication. I think that open offices were designed to increase this type of casual, spur of the moment, spontaneous communication. Sometimes ideas can be fertilized and grow from chatting with your co-workers. Works in progress can be seen before they are finished and fixed with less effort and expense.

My husband has a bunch of his team on another continent, in a very different time zone. Almost all of their communication must be formal. Daily required status updates. Daily feedback. There are no chance encounters over lunch or getting office supplies.

It seems like people are liable to think the worst of others in these situations. With no face to face contact, no chance to explain what’s going on, when someone doesn’t implement the feedback given it’s easy to assume ‘they just don’t respect me as their director any more. That makes me angry. I’m going to be vindictive or snarky in response.’ Which makes them less likely to implement my instructions. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

These conflicts can show up even in people in the same building, if there’s no contact between them. I was talking to someone at a party recently who said his organization is full of silos. “We” don’t want to talk to “them” if we don’t have to.

Sometimes the divisions happen because each department has a different priority, and it can feel to people that those in other departments are out to get them. Sales just promised a feature that engineering can’t produce in the time allowed. Engineering just made a feature that sales can’t figure out how to sell. What were they thinking?!?

I know all of this is human nature, but it makes me sad. I see people becoming less flexible, less open to input, less likely to encounter new ideas, less likely to offer creative ideas. I know what amazing things can happen when people work together, but there has to be trust to do that, and these silos sap trust.

It would be interesting to map how information flows through an organization. There’s probably already a diagram of who reports to whom, so there is some understanding of the formal process. But where does feedback really come from? An artist might get the design from the concept artist, official feedback from the art director, informal feedback from other artists, and office gossip from a friend in HR. The art director might give feedback to artists, get feedback from the VP, and come up with new ideas from chatting with marketing over lunch. I’d love to bring in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to examine where the bottlenecks are, who is connected to whom, which departments are in silos, where there is cross-pollination.

Who do you talk to at work?