Digitization, globalization, technological advances, and greater reliance on data analytics are accelerating market disruption at a historic pace, making it increasingly difficult for companies to maintain their competitive advantages. To stay competitive in the face of increasingly accelerated disruption, many companies need to rethink and retool their offerings and operations. That kind of transformation, however, requires a collaborative effort from all parts of the organization, no matter how different their processes, systems, and cultures have been in the past. Adapting on the scale necessary to remain competitive, whether done proactively or reactively, is especially difficult for companies that operate in deeply entrenched silos. Silos are all-too-common in the business world, and the problem impacts organizations of every size, in every industry.
A silo is a tall, structure with no windows, designed to store grain. Difficult to access since the grain is deposited and withdrawn via machinery, and there are few very limited points of entrance. In a business environment, the Silo Mentality as defined by the Business Dictionary is a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information, goals, tools, priorities with others in the same company.
More than two decades ago, Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline, gave compelling evidence of the need for thinking beyond silos in organizations, and the implications of not adopting this approach. But in 2018, despite the examples given above, the problems of silo working still remain.
In order to stop organizational silos, organizations first need to understand how they form. Organizational silos start forming when managers and employees develop a great loyalty for their group and show less trust for people on the “outside”. Managers are evaluated by their department’s work within their individual silo. Those in the department only focus on the skills they need to complete their assigned work. These are skilled team members who thoroughly know their jobs and may not see a reason to change. This can lead to stonewalling or refusing to cooperate when a change occurs. These attitudes close off avenues for collaboration and communication between staff and departments.
Departmental silos are seen as a growing pain for most organizations of all sizes. This isolation between departments causes rigid and defensive silo walls to develop. Silos, as mentioned above, are workplace constructs and mindsets that isolate departments from one another through bureaucracy or rigid hierarchies. The three most siloed department characterized by a lack of communication, information sharing, and collaboration are:
Silos emerge due to geographic dispersion. An increasingly global business environment requires companies of a certain size, scale, and scope to have multiple locations, often in various countries and across continents. Culture, language, and time zone differences compound the effects of existing silos.
The HR function is highly specialized, requiring a specific set of skills to make the most of human capital. Because these professionals are frequently handling highly sensitive information, for example, compensation decisions and employee relations issues, this area is ripe for a silo mentality.
IT functions in a silo quite often as well. IT professionals have highly specialized education and skills, and in many cases, staff members from other parts of the organization lack the interest or ability to gain a deeper understanding of IT projects due to the technical nature of the work.
It is difficult to work across departments if employees or managers and leaders do not understand the different business functions within the organization and the people who work in them. According to the article Breaking Down Silos at Work in MindTools managers and leaders should be able to answer the following questions:
1. WHO Makes up the Other Department?
2. WHAT Does the Other Department Do?
3. WHY Does Each Department Exist in Your Organization?
4. WHERE Does Each Department Work?
5. WHEN Do Other Departments Need to Get Involved?
6. HOW Does the Process Work?
Siloed organizations can begin breaking down barriers between departments by developing collaborative relationships between the Real Estate, HR and IT staff. As these three areas work together towards a common goal, their success in creating innovative solutions that touch all corners of the organization will lead other siloed departments to explore collaborative projects.
There is no organization that wouldn’t wish to be more collaborative, have an aligned vision, communicate better or improve trust and accountability. David Ian Willcock, a director and leadership coach, in his book Collaborating for Results: Silo Working and Relationships That Work, provides an integrated approach to collaboration that includes the individual, team, and organization, where managers and leaders serve as catalysts for “partnership working”. This method ultimately leads to high performance and competitive advantage.
A key barrier to collaboration is that individuals naturally tend toward silo working. They get specialized and prefer to retain control over their work. The factors determining this attitude are firstly the Individual Styles and Preferences including: Psychological Type, Personality Traits, Environmental and Social Influences and Skills and Capabilities, and secondly The Individual’s Responsibility meaning the role the manager or leader plays in the working relationships to increase the adaptability and flexibility, and to change the context of and improve the relationships.
According to the author analysis concerning the team context, one of the main causes of silo working is that each and everyone team member brings his own individual sense of purpose, identity, and personality. The interplay and blending of these personal features and perspectives in the context of the team shapes the group’s personality. The resulting team personality then determines the relationship of the team with the rest of the organization.
The 4 key team archetypes that the author experienced in his work and research are:
The Uncertain Team which has no clear purpose, vision, or values and therefore no clear boundaries. The absence of a team presence and voice can lead to inconsistency, low ambition, lack of creativity, and poor quality of engagement across and outside the organization.
The Defensive Team where the members over-identify with the purpose and values. Defensive Teams can result from old-style management based on a divide-and-rule mentality.
The Arrogant Team of which the members are likely to be dissatisfied with the status quo and want to change things. These teams are often led by ambitious action-oriented leaders.
The Open Team, the healthiest alternative to all the above archetypes. Open Teams are proactive in relationship management, keep in touch with people and events outside of the team, listen to feedback, and respond appropriately.
The quality of relationships between teams, functions, or organizational departments influences the identity, boundaries, and behavior of the organization as a whole. The effective relationships in an organization between its employees don’t come naturally, it takes planning, hard work, and communication. To have effective partnerships inside the organization as well as with external stakeholders, an organization needs to be open, adaptable, and flexible.
To build and empower cross-functional, flexible and open teams, a company needs to overcome seven common challenges as referred to Frank Ribeiro, Augusto Giacoman and Maureen Tranthman analysis Dealing with market disruption: Seven strategies for breaking down silos. These strategies will provide the organization with the right tools to combine the different knowledge and skills needed to bring about large-scale change.
According to the framework below, there are 4 major steps to deal with challenges associated with the silos.
Challenge: It is clear that change is needed, but the path forward is unclear.
Challenge: Siloed teams are assembled and struggle to solve cross-functional problems.
Challenge: Freed from the natural comfort zones and power structures of their silos, employees in cross-functional teams can be uncertain of priorities and expectations.
Challenge: The organization is global and so are the teams.
Challenge: The organization is global and so are the teams.
Challenge: Businesses assign a single leader to a cross-functional team made up of people from different silos.
Challenge: Leaders can’t reach consensus.
Once the decision to break down silo walls has been made, there are several effective strategies to help a company break down the silo mentality and to deal with the challenges. This article suggests 10 methods which can help reduce and remove silos in organizations.
1. Create a Unified Vision
As written by Patrick Lencioni in his book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars "Silos - and the turf wars they enable - devastate organizations. They waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals." It is imperative that the leadership team agrees to a common and unified vision for the organization. A unified leadership team will encourage trust, create empowerment, and break managers out of the "my department" mentality and into the "our organization" mentality.
2. Promote Organizational Values
To prevent the development of organizational silos, the leadership team should promote organizational values, wherein everyone should focus on working towards achieving the larger company vision and business growth objectives. Organizational values support the vision, shape the organizational culture and reflect what the company values. They are the essence, the principles, and beliefs of the company’s identity.
3. Work Towards Achieving a Common Goal
A common problem of silo mentality is that people see things from their perspective and they are likely to make choices that protect their department rather than protecting the company as a whole. In Virginia Anderson and Lauren Johnson's book, Systems Thinking Basics, systems thinking is described as a holistic and big-picture view of the whole. This thinking, along with a unified focus, should be applied across teams to encourage collaboration, teamwork and ultimately accomplishment of the common goal. Each department’s division-specific goals should reflect the overall goals of the company.
4. Collaborate and Create
There are several key factors in creating a thriving and productive team, among which specialization, collaboration, creativity, and trust consist the most valuable ones. Although the members of a team may have varying areas of expertise, they still share similar goals, resources, and leadership. To encourage teams to exhibit all these traits it is recommended that management allows and fosters cross-departmental interaction.
5. Implement Collaboration Software
A way to increase team collaboration and cross-departmental interaction would be by providing useful collaboration tools. Many CEOs and team leaders suggest that one way to reduce the silo mentality is to use technology to firm advantage and use programs and tools that exist to help the teams work together by sharing and updating information.
6. Encourage Interdepartmental Collaboration
Owing to a lack of information on roles and values that another department has, one team often consider that their job is more important than others. The leadership team should encourage people from different divisions within the organization to work on projects together. This strategy will help build effective teamwork and promote better trust among the workforce, irrespective of their job roles.
7. Educate, Work and Train together
People are the key to breaking down silos. One way to break down silos is to educate, work and train employees together in cross-departmental exercises. When employees understand the duties and processes of other departments more thoroughly, they can work together more cohesively toward the organization’s overall goals and mission. Collaborative training across divisions is a way to dovetail required training with collaborative, silo-breaking practices.
8. Create Communities of Practice
Communities of practice are formed when groups of individuals within the organization engage in activities of general skill sets, ideas, and passions that lead to shared learning. Silos keep people filtered by traditional departmental segments while communities of practice group people by shared interests. When staff starts to enjoy one another and discuss shared interests, they are more likely to work well together and share ideas that benefit their work.
9. Share Success
Oftentimes silo walls are reinforced because departments rarely see the successful outcome of their work. Team’s efforts and achievements which contribute to the team’s common goals are all considered a team success. Administrators and managers should always keep work and praise flowing through the whole organization ecosystem.
10. Create the Same Antagonist
It is true that competitive spirit will encourage your employees to work harder and drive productivity. Therefore, you should create a common competitor, which is your business antagonist. Encourage employees to work together to compete with the current competitors, and not each other to achieve the overall goals and visions.
To successfully break down silos leaders must be persistent and patient to overcome entrenched fears, attitudes, and work environments. Breaking down silos is about bringing people together as one team with shared goals, keeping the big picture in mind. Breaking down silo walls leads to more flexible workflows, fosters creativity, collaboration, and productive staff relationships.
Anna Efstratiadi : Academic writer / Economist / Architect
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