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Gluing Orgs Together
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2 min read

Gluing Orgs Together

I just read somewhere that when organizations reach a threshold of 150 employees, collaboration ceases. I might quibble with the black-and-whiteness of such a statement, but it feels about right to me.

I just read somewhere that when organizations reach a threshold of 150 employees, collaboration ceases. I might quibble with the black-and-whiteness of such a statement, but it feels about right to me.

If this really is the case, then the rational path for large organizations is to to keep chopping themselves up into smaller pieces that enable communication, collaboration, and innovation. In my consulting, I've seen companies with successful product groups that are about this size. These groups have their own KPI and often their own P&Ls. All good.

But usually there is no equivalent group that owns the glue, the connective tissue between product groups. That means cross-promotion is often as poor as promotion is good. In other, non-commercial contexts—say a corporate intranet—that missing glue destroys divisions' ability to communicate and collaborate with each other—which is still kind of important if a large organization is to function at all.

Many senior leaders recognize the silo problem, but they solve it the wrong way: if one hierarchical approach to organizing their business doesn't work, try another hierarchy. Don't like the old silos? Create new ones. This dark tunnel leads to an even darker pit: the dreaded—and often horrifically ineffective—reorg.

Information architects have unique skills for addressing the problem of silos. We're great at creating connective tissue. But this is hard stuff to explain to non-IAs. And we're awful at making the case that we have something to offer.

I hate to use the dreaded 'R' word, but if information architects are going to remain relevant, we need to apply our skills to connecting content across silos in a way that senior leaders can understand. In other words, we have to demonstrate the value of doing a good job connecting content across silos in a quantifiable way. We need to come up with better metrics for two areas:

  1. Contextual Navigation: Moving people horizontally between content and, ultimately, between silos of content.
  2. Search: Enabling people to drill down quickly into a site's deep content, regardless of which silo owns that content.

Many identify information architecture with only its top-down elements, like main pages and site hierarchies. These other two pillars of IA are far more important, far richer in opportunity, and as yet unexplored and under-exploited by so many large organizations.

Metrics tend to find their way into KPI. Good metrics lead to great KPI. If we information architects can develop better metrics to help optimize these two areas, today's voids of in-betweenness will be transformed into tomorrow's valuable real estate. We'll see large organizations that have product managers, teams, and strong KPI built not for silos, but for the stuff in between silos. And a clear path from information architect to product manager will emerge to the delight and relief of the many information architects who are currently pondering their future relevance.

About the author

Lou Rosenfeld helped create the profession of information architecture, co-authored its leading text, and serving as president of its best-known consulting firm for seven years. His most recent blog post (reproduced below with his permission) touches on some of the key things that allow the Jostle platform to connect organizations like they have never been connected before...

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Lou Rosenfeld

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