Leading and Communication Silos


Advice for Program Managers


By Rob Carlson

Illinois, USA


The only thing that makes sense is to strive for greater collective enlightenment.
~ Elon Musk[1]


Our team struggled to build systems on schedule. It was unclear from the information presented at team status meetings that performance would be getting better as late deliveries began to mount. As a Portfolio Manager, I had the overall responsibility for the project’s performance and was the primary point of contact for our customers. I needed to explain the reason for our late deliveries but could not determine the poor performance’s root cause from the general status meetings. The program manager was frustrated with the manufacturing team and didn’t understand why they were struggling. It seemed that each day brought new challenges, and there was no end to the struggles and delayed shipment of our products.

After attending a few meetings with the manufacturing team, I learned we had a communication silo problem that inhibited collaboration and limited our ability to recover. Development engineering could resolve the manufacturing issues, but they did not attend the daily meetings and had no dedicated resources to assist manufacturing. Development engineering said they were not aware of the issues and thought the manufacturing team could resolve them. The Program Manager is responsible for ensuring this type of preventable situation doesn’t occur by leveraging a robust program communication plan. Shouldn’t the functional teams also want to prevent this type of communication failure? Isn’t our collective goal to succeed as an organization together? Can leadership bridge the silos?

Communication Silos

Communication Silos are often an artifact of how organizations are organized and managed. Like the grain silos in agriculture that segregate grain types from another, organizations are functionally aligned and managed. In organizations that employ a matrix program organization designed for flexibility, there are often two management chains with functional teams often having competing goals, priorities, and pressures that lead to an inward focus rather than outward or broader team focus. The attitude of “us against them” can lead to poor information sharing, blaming, and general dysfunction. In a 2002 study on Internal Collaboration, the American Management Association (AMA) found that 83% said silos exist in their organizations, with 97% of those respondents saying it harms their organizations[2].   Functional teams rarely go into a program with their guard up and prepared to protect their organization at the cost of the broader team’s success. However, they may not realize how they contribute to poor or dysfunctional communication that slows their ability to deliver products to customers. Program Managers can lead their organizations to overcome silo communication by understanding how and where it exists and employing tools and strategies that change their program’s culture and possibly their more extensive organization. By employing the strategies related to anticipation, engagement, and building, program managers can break-down communication silos and create numerous opportunities to be successful.


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How to cite this article: Carlson, R. (2021).  Leading and Communication Silos – Advice for Program Managers, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue III, March.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/pmwj103-Mar2021-Carlson-leading-and-communication-silos-advisory.pdf

About the Author

Robert Carlson

Hawthorn Woods, Illinois


Mr. Robert Carlson is currently a Portfolio Manager at the Mission Systems Sector of the Northrop Grumman Corporation in the United States. Northrop Grumman is a global provider of sensor systems and integrated solutions for threat warning and self-protection, electronic attack and electronic warfare support, integrated avionics suites, systems, and components.

Before working at Northrop, Mr. Carlson served over 30 years in the U.S. Army with assignments throughout the U.S. and various international locations. He holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Keller Graduate School of Business and a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the U.S. Army War College. He is currently a Doctor of Strategic Leadership (DSL) student at Regent University. Mr. Carlson is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP©) since 2000. He can be reached at rcarlsonsr@gmail.com.

[1] Vance, A. (2015). Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Harper Collins.
[2] Stone, F. (2004). Deconstructing silos and supporting collaboration. Employment Relations Today, 31(1), 11-18.