Mind The Gap: How Business Architecture Breaks Down and Bridges Silos

What is business architecture good for? Perhaps many things come to your mind. It’s a great connector for building a common language. It’s a comprehensive business lens for making decisions. It’s a bridge for effectively executing strategy. And much more. These unique strengths make business architecture a powerful silo-buster. At the end of the day, silos are at the heart of many challenges and opportunities that business architecture and business architects can address.

Silos are in many ways just inherently human, but unchecked, they can become detrimental to an organization’s success. Business architecture is uniquely qualified to break down and bridge silos, as we will now explore.   

What exactly are silos?

The silo mentality, the silo effect, the silo syndrome, silo-sitis. These are all terms for a condition that occurs when certain groups of people within an organization (e.g. business units, departments or teams) do not have a mechanism to share goals, priorities, information, processes or tools with other groups of people. And, to take this a step further, it may extend into a mindset where certain departments, teams or groups of people do not want to share with each other.  

Simply stated, a group of people is considered to be working in a silo when its members work in a disconnected manner from other groups. A classic example of the silo effect is when two groups of people are working on practically the same thing, but neither is aware of what the other is doing.

What creates silos?

Silos can be created by organizational structure (e.g., within and across business units, departments and teams as well as up and down hierarchies) or by other factors such as geography (e.g., stemming not just from geographic separation but also time zone, language and cultural differences). Silos can also be the result of mindset, which stems from organizational leadership, culture, norms and motivational mechanisms.

What’s the big deal about silos?

Silos take hold of how we think and how we act.

As siloed mindsets and behavior increase, economic performance decreases.

The Silo Syndrome, McKinsey

There we have it in black-and-white, backed by data: silos are not just a job frustration — they impact an organization’s ability to perform.

Silos create challenges for:

  • Customers – Silos can create fragmented and inconsistent experiences for customers, which can lead to a lower level of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Our organizations’ internal fragmentation and dysfunction can translate into fragmentation for the customer. Take the example of changing your address with a company and you unknowingly change it with just one part of the organization that does not talk to others, so you continue to receive mail at your old address.
  • Employees – Silos can frustrate and demotivate employees, leading to reduced morale, erosion of culture, lower productivity and attrition. Even when done well, navigating silos can increase collaborative overload for employees. According to data collected by HBR over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more. (Harvard Business Review, “Collaborative Overload”). At its worst, silo mentalities can lead to finger-pointing and blame as well as hoarding of information that is potentially valuable to the organization. 
  • The Organization – Silos can decrease efficiency (and increase cost) in a variety of ways, which can lead to an overall reduction in organizational performance, goal achievement and competitiveness. For example, silos can lead to:
    • Decreased ability to make good decisions due to a lack of valuable information
    • Decreased end-to-end organizational agility and the ability to execute strategy due to a lack of a unified vision and a cohesive capability to move ideas into action (More on business architecture’s role in strategy execution here in Posts No. 3, No. 50 and No. 9.)
    • Impeded processing times due to slow handoffs, miscommunication and overhead
    • Decreased quality due to errors, variability and rework
      Increased risk due to a lack of transparency and coordination

How can we address silos and how can business architecture help?

Of course, it is important to understand the root causes for silos within an organization before applying solutions, but here are a few ideas for silo bridging and busting — along with how business architecture can help.

  • Help everyone understand the whole. Especially in our connected world of today, everyone needs a holistic understanding of how the organization delivers value, to whom, and how things work at a high level. As described in the book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, the European Space Agency failed because different countries made each part of the rockets. Independently the parts worked but when the rockets were assembled, they blew up. NASA avoided this problem by bringing their contractors in-house and mandating that everyone understand the entire project. People also need to have a common language, because not speaking the same language can isolate them into silos. For example, the language used by Sales versus Operations versus Legal versus IT can be very different in words and perspectives.  

With business information concepts, capabilities and value streams at the heart (as well as other views such as the business model), business architecture helps by providing a shared context, language and mental model of an entire organization, that includes and makes sense to every area. It gives people a shared vocabulary and understanding of where they fit into the bigger picture — and what happens upstream and downstream. Business architecture also standardizes information concepts so that data can be standardized, aggregated and confidently relied upon for decision-making.

  • Create a shared purpose. Without a common vision and objectives, employees and partners can be challenged to contribute appropriately to the organization’s goals and can feel disconnected from the bigger picture. Just having more collaboration is not enough – it requires a clear and shared understanding of the ultimate business direction.

Business architecture can be used to clarify and translate business direction. It helps by reflecting an organization’s objectives, tied to the value streams, capabilities and initiatives (as well as many other things) required to make them actionable. This information may be represented in a target state architecture(s) and strategic roadmap(s) that helps everyone understand how they need to contribute to the bigger picture goals.

  • Identify where to remove or bridge silos. While it is not always possible or logical to remove silos, sometimes it makes sense. Or, identifying where and how to best bridge silos can be useful, such as where there are information, process, tooling or cultural gaps.

The value streams and capabilities of business architecture – and their connection to other business architecture domains (e.g., objectives, business units, products, policies, stakeholders, initiatives, etc.) as well as the operating model (i.e., people, process and technology) – provide an ideal enterprise business lens with which to identify opportunities to remove or bridge silos. For example, value streams can provide an additional construct to help people work together across business units towards a greater goal of delivering value. Value streams and capabilities together can illuminate opportunities for sharing expertise, processes or tools. Leveraging business architecture for initiative prioritization and scoping can ensure that the right investments are made in alignment with strategic priorities, shared solutions are leveraged where appropriate, and that the right stakeholders, sequence and integration points between initiatives are identified upfront. An organization’s business architecture extends beyond its organizational boundaries to include customer and partners, so any silo challenges in the extended ecosystem can also be analyzed and addressed.

  • Change the mindset. Potentially the most effective way to break down and bridge silos starts with our mindset. This includes openness, sharing, collaboration, transparency, empowerment and truly caring about the customer and the entire enterprise and its mission. Of course, these changes are hard work. Shifting the mindset from silos to enterprise and collaboration starts with leaders and needs to be backed by the right incentives and motivational mechanisms.

Business architecture does not change culture or mindset directly, but it provides the facts and transparency to illuminate where silos still exist so they can be addressed appropriately. As a truly shared enterprise business framework, it also provides a way for people to come together in support of something bigger than themselves to serve customers and the organization’s mission.

All of this is summarized in a handy diagram here.

Business Architecture Breaks Down and Bridges Silos

One of the most important things we can do as business architects is to leverage business architecture along with our talents and care to help break down and bridge the silos within our organizations. Business architects are perfectly positioned to be Enterprise Advocates. If not now, when? If not us, who?

More Good Stuff

The Silo Syndrome (McKinsey): A simple, visual and powerful explanation of some silo challenges and solutions.

The Silo Mentality: How To Break Down The Barriers (Forbes): An overview of the silo mentality and five ways to encourage a unified front.

A Radical Solution To The Silo Problem (Forbes): An experiment to break down silos by rotating team members into each other’s roles. A very interesting read. 

The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers (Gillian Tett): This book applies an anthropologist’s lens to the problem of why so many organizations still suffer from a failure to communicate. It shares tales of the silo syndrome, yes, but also shows how institutions and individuals can master their silos instead.

Collaborative Overload (Harvard Business Review): Collaboration is great, but recognizing, promoting and efficiently distributing the right kinds of collaborative work is important.

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For a Complex World (General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussell): An excellent book with compelling examples of how the team of teams strategy has worked everywhere from hospital emergency rooms to NASA. These concepts have the potential to transform organizations large and small.

Silos Into Sousaphones (TED Talk): An important TED Talk by David Healey, David Healey Director of the Boston College Marching Band and the Symphonic Band who speaks about breaking down the most important silos of all: human diversity. David’s talk describes his mission to successfully and consistently unite vastly diverse communities through teamwork and compassion, turning academic communities into more than just places where people study. There are some very good lessons to take away from this one. 

Whynde Kuehn Named Advisory Panel Member for UTS Australasian Enterprise Architecture Summer School 2020

Whynde Kuehn, S2E Founder and Managing Director, is honored to be invited to sit on the advisory panel for the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Australasian Enterprise Architecture Summer School 2020. Kuehn, a global business architecture thought leader with a focus on digital transformation, will join other prominent business and IT professionals to shape this influential event sponsored by UTS.

The Call-for-Abstracts is open as well as registration for this February 2020 event.

Life Architecture: Bringing An Intentional Approach to Personal Improvement

Welcome to the first StraightTalk installment of the new year, and in fact, the new decade. In keeping with our focus on the human side of business architecture, this installment explores the concept of life architecture, inspired by an amazing human story.

As you know, the mission of StraightTalk is to break down business architecture bit-by-bit to help simplify, scale, and deliver value with the discipline globally, based on a shared foundation of knowledge. But our post here, No. 67, takes a little side-step on a related topic — one that matters to our lives — and with an exceptional guest.

We interviewed Gary Wright, a successful businessman and entrepreneur who has formed high tech companies and held positions with key technology innovators in the computer hardware and software, biotech, pharmaceuticals and medical device industries. He currently works as business architect for a large organization. Gary is a survivor of the Unabomber, a domestic terrorist who was the focus of the longest-running, most expensive criminal investigation in US history. Gary was nearly killed when he picked up a pipe bomb in the parking lot of his business and spent years recovering from his injuries. But it is through his experience that he has triumphed and emerged with a unique perspective on what it takes to recover from an act of terrorism, violence, or trauma – and he regularly shares his insights with business professionals and individuals like us. (Lucky us!)

Gary has appeared on numerous radio and television programs and has been hosted as a featured guest speaker at many conferences, companies, and institutions, including the US Senate, Good Morning AmericaOprah, BBC, NPR, and many others.

As part of the ways he gives back, Gary focuses on the concept of life architecture – which is all about bringing structure and intention to our own lives and personal improvement. Yes, that means applying the same rigor and perspectives that we apply to our organizations to ourselves. This post is based on our interview with Gary, where he breaks down the what and why of life architecture for us.

Disclaimer: we’ve made some adjustments for our typical StraightTalk-style: the gray headings represent StraightTalk asking the questions and our guest, Gary, responds in turn.

Make sure to check out Gary’s incredible interview firsthand to hear the whole story (this post is an abbreviation), in our StraightTalk podcast, 20-Minutes With Gary Wright: The Concept of Life Architecture. This one is a must-listen.

Without further ado, here’s Gary.

What is life architecture?

Gary: In simple terms, the concept of life architecture is basically a framework that allows an individual to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and assists in creating a blueprint or map on how best to move forward when life changes unexpectedly, when one desires the achievement of personal goals, or to respond when your life is impacted and will never be the same, as was the case for me.

Similar to business architecture, life architecture has core and extended domains, which I have named life blocks. Each life block has a category and there are different levels under each category. For example, health is a core life block with aspects such as physical, mental, emotional, philosophical and spiritual, and you can evaluate each one of those areas. Sometimes you will find they can be very severely impacted. For instance, in my situation, going through life and not knowing who the Unabomber was for nine years not only created physical damage to my body, but you can imagine the impacts to my emotional, spiritual and even philosophical health as well. Understanding how to move forward with that became really difficult because at the time counselors were not assigned to survivors of incidences like this, so you were kind of on your own. As I started to look at these pieces (life blocks), I had the realization that I somehow had to address and self-evaluate what needed to change. Like business, sometimes it is really difficult to evaluate what is going to happen or what has happened and try to apply what you know to make a change and make things successful moving forward. That, in a nutshell, is what life architecture is about.

Check out the diagram below for an overview of life architecture from Gary.

Concept Diagram

Why do you think the concept of life architecture is so important?

Gary: The world is a busy place and people struggle just to keep up with the demands of business – and you tie into that family life, health and nutrition, relationships and other demands. How do you balance all that effort and how do you know how to load yourself properly? Today it seems we are overloaded in one area or another, so I think some people have adjustments going on as technology changes our lives. There is a need for us to slow down a little bit and take a good inventory of what our lives look like.

Look at the things that work. If your core isn’t solid — your health, your knowledge, your value system, your finances — you can’t possibly succeed in the other extended areas like relationships, family, community and others. You have to start with the core. Just like in business, if the core isn’t solid, the extended domains will not be solid either. Like business architecture provides a set of building blocks for an organization to move from one place to another, the life blocks of life architecture can help an individual do the same.

People are very good at business and analyzing things, but they don’t do a good job of applying that same sort of analysis to their own personal lives. We need to do this to provide clarity on where we want to go, reduce stress and increase our overall mental health and happiness. Our society, in general, could use a bit of this as well. If we look at an old neighborhood concept: the better the people interaction, the better the neighborhood is.

Can you share a bit of your personal story and what led you to create the idea of life architecture?

Gary: I can share the Unabomber story and my struggles in trying to understand how to move forward after an act of terrorism. In 1987, I had started a company in the computer industry. The Unabomber was focused on anti-technology thoughts and so I was targeted for that reason. I picked up a bomb in the parking lot of my business and there was about 200 pieces of shrapnel that went through my body. I had lots of physical injuries, but it became pretty apparent that the physical side was going to heal. However, the other side, the mental side of the healing was pretty tough.

I went through a six-year period where I was in and out of surgery but at this time I also came to the conclusion that I might not ever know who this person was – and I did not find out who he was for nine years. I struggled with who this person was, and that was a drain on a daily basis – let alone thinking they may come back. The impact extended to my parents, family, friends, work and other aspects of my life. Having been in the spotlight for a while, I realized I had to find a way to balance some of this and accept that he may never be found and find a way to move on. This was a precursor to the ideas that life architecture was built around. My healing process was not linear and took a long time, but it gave me a chance to take a hard look at myself.

How do we put this idea of life architecture into action for ourselves?

People know when things are out of synch, so the first step is to really evaluate what is and is not working in your life and be really honest with the process. Write it down and use this as a baseline.

Then, look at your core and extended domains — not unlike what we’d do with an organization using the business architecture — and map the levels for each on yourself. You can even color-code your results. You will start to see some things that are interrelated and even see ways to short-cut how to make change in your life. When you see the interrelated components, then you can identify courses of action such as talking to someone, reading something, making certain changes on a daily basis or otherwise.

Having a visual map helps creates action for change. When you begin to apply your structured thinking and business expertise and apply it to your personal life, really cool things start to happen.

Anything else?

I asked myself this question a long time ago and it has shifted my thinking: “Do you deserve 10% or even 5% of your day?” Since then I have taken that 5% or 1.2 hours a day for myself, physically, mentally or whatever I need. Unless you plan this in and make it a priority, it never will be. I am still extremely productive and work a lot of hours, but that 1.2 hours a day keeps me grounded in what I need to do. Think what your personal life would look like if you put the same focus on it as you do with your e-mails and your business. You would have better relationships, more conversation and feel more grounded.

As we move into a new year — and decade — don’t let life just happen. Business architects are brilliant at creating blueprints for their organizations and fellow humankind to succeed in new ways. Make sure to take some time to do the same for your own precious self. The world needs you.

Announcement – Gary and Whynde are pleased to announce the launch of a new podcast series that will air later this year. We will explore further the concepts of life architecture and how business and principled-thinking can be used in our lives to inspire us to feel better, heal, and enable us to simply show up with greater confidence as we live, work and play. Stay tuned for further details here on StraightTalk.

More Good Stuff…

20-Minutes With Gary Wright: The Concept of Life Architecture (StraightTalk podcast): Just in case you missed that link in the beginning of this post, make sure to check out Gary’s podcast, which was the basis for this post, where he breaks down the what and why of life architecture. It’s pure gold. Prepare to be inspired.

Gary Wright Life Architect: Here’s a link to Gary’s website where you can learn more about his story and how he can help.

Your Life In Weeks (Wait But Why): This is one of our absolute favorites. It provides a powerful perspective to help us reflect on our precious weeks and how we spend them.

What Trauma Taught Me About Happiness (TED Talk): A heartfelt TED Talk by Lindsey Roy on how to be here now and harness disruption and find clarity in the chaos. Her life lessons come from her challenging recovery process after experiencing a tragic boating accident that almost claimed her life and left her with significant injuries. This is powerful.