In my practice assisting organizations to plan and implement Change , we often encounter organizations with ‘fragmentation” problem. They continually fragment problems into pieces; yet the challenges they face are almost always systemic.
According to Senge & Deming, this fact may have its roots in early childhood. Since our first school days, we learn to break the world apart and disconnect ourselves from it. We memorize isolated facts, read static accounts of history, study abstract theories, and acquire ideas unrelated to our life experience and personal aspirations. Economics is separate from mathematics, which is separate from biology, which has no connection with history. We eventually become convinced that knowledge is accumulated bits of information and that learning has little to do with our capacity for effective action, our sense of self, and how we exist in our world.
Like people, organizations can get sick and die. They also need to be cured and healed. Yet, like physicians who focus only on their specialty, most executives fragment complex situations into symptoms, treat the symptoms, and rarely inquire into the deeper causes. Consequently, management experts have very little ability to influence organizational health. All too often, their solutions contribute to a vicious pattern of “programs of the month” that fail and get replaced by the next program of the month.
Fragmentation results in “walls” that separate different functions into independent and often warring fiefdoms, making the company increasingly ungovernable. It often create dominance of “special interest groups” and political lobbies.
Many companies are trying to “change” or “reengineer” themselves away from stovepipe structures and toward horizontal business processes that cut across traditional functions and power hierarchies. While potentially significant, such changes often prove difficult to implement and those that are implemented only “reap the low-hanging fruit.”
The walls that exist in the physical world are reflections of people’s mental walls. The separation between the different functions is not just geographic, it lives in the way we think.
Redesigns that “throw down the walls” between different functions may have little enduring effect unless they also change the mental models that created the walls in the first place.