A recent working paper from Harvard Business School has revealed that despite the efforts of many organisations to break down internal boundaries, the corporate silo is still alive and well.

For the report, titled: Communication (and Coordination?) in a Modern, Complex Organisation, the authors spent three months analysing communications between staff within a large unnamed company with more than 100,000 employees.

The team was taken aback by the lack of communication across the organisation. They found that most people tended to communicate with others in their own group or with peers. With women being one of the few exceptions.

Although the research doesn’t try to answer why corporate silos are so difficult to tear down, the authors hope that the data will help managers understand, pinpoint, and remove bottlenecks within their own organisations.

Key concepts from the report include:

  • Inside the studied company, practically speaking, little interaction occurred across three major corporate boundaries: business units, organisational functions, and office locations.
  • Communication patterns were extremely hierarchical: Executives, middle managers, and rank-and-file employees communicated extensively within their own levels, but there were far fewer cross-pay-grade interactions in the firm.
  • Junior executives, women, and members of the salesforce were the key actors in bridging the silos.
  • Relative to men, women participate in a greater volume of electronic and face-to-face interactions and do so with a larger and more diverse set of communication partners.
  • Server logs can provide valuable information to managers on communication flows within their own organisations.

Read more in a Q&A with co-author Toby E. Stuart >