In Franz Kafka’s famous novel, The Castle, a land surveyor known only as K, arrives in a small town for a job. He’s been summoned by the mysterious organization that resides in a nearby castle, but when he reports for duty to a local official, he’s told that the summons was a mistake. There’d been a mix-up; they didn’t need him after all.

K tries to contact the officials at the castle to sort things out, but he quickly finds himself trapped in an endless maze of paperwork, formal inquiries, and official requests – a system that everyone around him is convinced to be flawless. But as far as K is concerned, the only thing the administration is perfect at is keeping him in the dark.

Even though Kafka (who worked as an insurance claims inspector) never finished The Castle, it is considered one of the best depictions of bureaucracy that has ever been written. Nothing much happens in the novel, of course, but then, bureaucracies aren’t known for their excitement.

Stuck in the System

In fact, the hallmark of bureaucracy is stagnation. A pond grows stagnant when the water doesn’t circulate, and a company becomes stagnant when information doesn’t circulate. Everyone knows that stilted, sluggish sensation when confronting a system that seems designed to stop communication rather than promote it. We’ve all been there, and absolutely none of us wants to stay.

But bureaucracies do a lot more damage than merely getting on people’s nerves while they wait for this or that information to pass through all the different filters. A 2012 study by Alcatel-Lucent showed that two thirds of the most successful companies were also the most responsive to changes in the market environment. Clearly, companies mired in bureaucracy aren’t going to respond quickly and flexibly to market changes, and so will fall behind their peers.

One possible solution to bureaucratization is to concentrate decision-making power among a few individuals, and hopefully streamline processes that way. But paradoxically, the Acatel-Lucent study shows that the most successful and responsive companies also tended to include more people in their decision-making.

That’s counter-intuitive: Shouldn’t more voices and more perspectives make decision-making more complicated? Too many cooks spoil the soup, right?

Decidedly not. The real barrier to market-responsiveness isn’t too many cooks. It’s the functional silos and systems that prevent departments from sharing information.

From Silos to Smart-Sharing

By now most companies understand the need to overcome these silos. Contrary to the maxim, however, the will doesn’t always create a way. Business leaders and managers need to create deeper linkages between teams in order to build a dynamic environment for better decision-making.

So no matter how much the company executives want to cultivate an atmosphere of creative collaboration beyond the bureaucratic silo model, that space for better decision-making won’t exist unless information is shared – on a common platform to maximize distribution; through accessible analytics to draw out the insights buried deep inside the data; and using interactive visuals to facilitate understanding.

To see how integrated data sharing can make your company more responsive, try a demo of Askuity’s retail intelligence platform.