Are Silos Hurting Your Bottom Line?
6 Tips to Knock Them Down!
Leaders nonchalantly use the phrase “Silos” as a euphemism for the inability to share information among departments. This phrase assumes that turf wars are inevitable and normal. It sets the tone for high-walled departmental kingdoms, protected territories, and an ‘us versus them’ attitude.
The unwritten law is if an employee feels that something related to another business function is not their job, he/she can—and should—consider it outside the parameters of his/her job description. The refrain, “It’s not my job” rings through the corridors like a proud mantra … which creates the epitome of Silo Management. And the concept of sharing information or collaborating on solutions is absolutely non-existent.
Seriously? What’s Wrong With This Concept?
Silo management is the type of mentality that destroys employee engagement, torpedoes morale, wreaks havoc on communication and teamwork, and eats away at the bottom line of an organization. The silo mindset does not appear accidentally. It is an outgrowth of the behaviors accepted and fostered by top leadership, and trickles down to create interdepartmental turf wars.
From our research and experience, the root cause of a silo mentality,
more often than not, is the result of a leadership team who isn’t on the same page,
with a philosophy that neither values nor cultivates open communication and willingness to change.
Silos are a useful tool for farmers to separate different types of grain, but an organization’s silos that separate different departments and cause division among employees are not so benign. Silos—and the turf wars they enable—can devastate organizations. They waste valuable resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize employee engagement at all levels. They can become fortresses of divisiveness and even sabotage. To take them lightly perpetuates a pathology that invites being destroyed from within. Silos are not a necessary condition for business success. Once silos form, employees develop more loyalty to a group than to the employer. As silos solidify, members become more insular and distrustful of other employees and departments. Once trust disappears, it becomes increasingly difficult for groups to work together. Highly entrenched silos are resistant to change, operate to prevent easy access to the information they hold, and create barriers to interdepartmental change and cooperation. Not to mention the fact that your competition is laughing all the way to the bank!
What Can Leaders Do?
Unfortunately, departmental silos are still alive and well in most organizations of all sizes. However, it is the duty of extraordinary leaders to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mind-set to break down this destructive organizational barrier. From what we’ve observed in our work, many leaders continue to dismiss departmental inefficiencies and lack of cross-functional cooperation as “par for the course.” These ‘antonyms’ of extraordinary leadership perpetuate the lack of necessary training, communication, and creative problem solving, and send out an attitude that leaders could care less about the inability of some employees to play nicely with one another.
To use an aviation analogy, when you raise the nose of a plane too much, you increase the possibility of a stall. In work relationships, when you encourage snubbing your nose at co-workers, you increase the severity of a ‘productivity stall’ that harms the entire company! Silos are organizational pathologies and prevent building cultures of commitment and engagement! Recognizing the interconnections between departments and synthesizing them into a unified whole encourages cross-disciplinary teamwork and resource sharing.
Interdepartmental benchmarks for success, cross-departmental goals, shared accountabilities, and cooperative and collaborative paths must be agreed upon. If a business culture sets up dedicated business functions and does not establish meetings, training opportunities, or policy-planning sessions that bring people from different departments together, employees will stick to their assigned roles, which will produce closed-mindedness, an ‘us versus them’ mentality, and departmental versus organizational loyalty.
Six Tips to Smash Your Silos!
While most leaders recognize the necessity of breaking down silos, it isn’t as easy as it may appear. Typically, silo management is deeply entrenched in the culture, so unless the executive leadership at the top recognizes and commits to a change, it may be a tough goal to accomplish. But there are things any extraordinary leader can do to reduce the level of the silos, and encourage more communication and teamwork among employees. Here are some tips to break down the silos and create some “cross-pollination.”
- Within your own department, begin to create a systematic sharing of information among subteams. Invite representatives from different subteams to attend meetings and ensure that important updates are shared across teams. (Example, an ‘all-employee e-blast’ or regular ‘Town Hall Meetings.’)
- Set up extensive cross-training programs, so everyone has at least two back-ups who know and understand each job.
- Hold regular Creative Think Tanks which bring together a variety of people from different work areas to solve problems or develop new ideas.
- Invite representatives from other departments to attend your staff meetings, to share what they do and discuss how the groups can collaborate.
- Designate a specific meeting room for cross-functional meetings. To use this “cool” room, attendees must represent at least two or more different work areas.
- Build teamwork and collaboration across departmental lines into everyone’s performance expectations and reviews. This one is critical! What gets measured is what gets done.
If you, as a leader, recognize you are unconsciously (or maybe consciously) reinforcing Silos in your workplace, make the commitment to break out of your Silo mentality immediately, encourage interdepartmental communication, and reward cross-functional teamwork—then watch employee engagement and productivity soar!
–Excerpt from Seriously? 25 Cringe-Worthy Phrases Leaders Use That Rob Them of Their Credibility … and How to Retool Them, by Cher Holton and Bil Holton