“Nothing kills ‘one team one goal’ thinking like silos” (John G Miller, author of QBQ: The Question Behind the Question)

A CEO of a large business recently shared some of his frustrations with me – he complained that he needed to mediate conflict frequently between his senior managers and asked: “Why do people responsible for large business divisions find it so difficult to work well with each other? I do not have time to deal with their issues. Why is there not more cooperation and coordination between these directors and general managers?” This CEO is representative of many who find that there are predictable patterns of disconnection between functional managers across their respective organisations. These patterns, identified by Barry Oshry in 1994, include: “poor communication, duplication of work, internal competition, lack of synergy and short-sighted solutions”. He further noted: “The real cause of this dysfunction is systemic, predictable and fixable”.

The Business Dictionary defines a silo mentality as “a mind-set present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality reduces efficiency in the overall operation, diminishes morale and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture”. Although there may be some limited benefits for a those having a silo mentality (like taking ownership of the department, taking responsibility and being accountable for departmental results), the impact of this mind-set seems largely to affect efficient operational gains, communication excellence, corporate culture and trust negatively. Fundamentally and as such, expertise is not leveraged across the entire organisation and the concept of alignment of vision and goals deteriorates into an unrealistic dream.

Breaking down an unhealthy silo mentality is essential to optimise organisational effectiveness and efficiency. Senior management can do the following to dismantle silo thinking:

  • Establish a clear understanding of the “silo pain” – demonstrate to organisational management at all levels the nature and cost of the “pain” to the company and reiterate the need to dismantle detrimental patterns. Present accurately measured evidence where necessary.
  • Establish peer intelligence project teams – these alignment teams should consist of people from all departments, but be limited to employees who are all at the same level. Having senior people present limits conversational freedom, the generation of innovative ideas and frankness. The goal of these teams is to make sure that departmental objectives are aligned to the “big picture” of the company’s strategy.
  • Share company vision and objectives frequently and consistently through all communication channels – every message should relay purpose and goals, togetherness, a “one team” approach and integrated intent.
  • Focus on compelling work challenges – members of the group must have direct capacity to act on issues that mitigate against an holistic approach to reaching company objectives.
  • Help leaders at all levels adopt the value of sharing “bad news” – in part, silos can arise in an attempt to limit the exposure of divisional/departmental bad news or failures. Assist leaders in seeing failure in a more positive light – an opportunity to improve and grow.
  • Maintain a balance – balance effort and energy to eliminate the silo mentality with other initiatives that also reap business reward and value.
  • Ensure that the silos deemed appropriate and necessary are effective by ensuring that they are:

o   Transparent – make sure that employees are able to see inside the silo. This enables understanding and reassures employees that the work is in the best interests of the organisation.

o   Permeable – allow information to flow into and out of the silo. This enables other groups to leverage the expertise and information best across the company and allows the silos to better understand the impact of local optimisation.

Breaking down an unhealthy silo mentality is essential to optimise organisational effectiveness and efficiency. David Cohen noted: “We’re either pulling together or pulling apart”. Silos can only be addressed when leaders are committed to creating a strong organisational culture of collaboration, communication and trust. These leaders constantly exhibit the behaviour they’d like to see in their employees.

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