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  • Writer's pictureannaschurmann

Combatting Organizational Fragmentation

Whatever health systems problem I am analyzing, in whatever state, country or region, all have one thing in common: they are created against a backdrop of a fragmented health system. The background section of every report I read or write seems to contain the words “in the context of a fragmented health system…”. Over and over I see people not communicating horizontally, not collaborating, timidly sticking within their line of command, and working on parallel efforts. A lot of the work I do is to counter this fragmentation – through improving knowledge management and communication practices, innovation and optimizing data use.

For this reason, I was thrilled to find this new book The Silo Effect by Gillian Tett from the British newspaper, the Financial Times. Tett describes how this fragmentation so typical of big organizations contributed to the global financial crises in 2008 and the demise of corporate behemoths IBM and Sony.

In a world increasingly interconnected and integrated by new communication technologies there is a counter pull: towards creating silos (or “oyster pots” as they were called within Sony’s Tokyo headquarters). This pull makes sense – how else to make sense of complexity? A smaller team can collaborate easily, can specialize, work more efficiently and be accountable. But it also prevents information sharing, collaboration and innovation – contributing to replication, inefficiencies and stagnation.

“..humans tend to organize the world around them into mental social and organizational boxes, which can often turn into specialist silos. When these are rigid, they often cause people to behave in foolish or damaging ways; silos can make people blind to opportunity and dangerously unaware of risk”

An interesting thing about Tett’s book is her anthropological background – which gives her an excellent toolkit to understand taxonomies and cultural forces that underlie these mechanisms. She advocates for diversity of thought and ideas to counter these silos – the space to reimagine the world from different perspectives. One of the ways she highlights this can be done is through information technology and data analysis. Computers can be programmed to rearrange data in different ways, revealing insights we might not otherwise have.

I enjoyed this book, it was an easy read and had some excellent case studies of both successes (Facebook) and failures (Sony). It affirmed the way I work rather than challenging it – but also gave me some new language to communicate what I do. Strongly recommended!

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