Grain silos are designed with one thing in mind – protecting the resources within from outside attack by pests, varmints, and other unsavory creatures. In organizations with a strongly siloed culture, the thought process can be quite similar.
Siloed organizations have severe divides between different internal departments, something which prevents the free-flow of information that is critical to a business’s success. With the increasing complexity of businesses, this deeply rooted problem can be difficult to avoid. A side effect of organizational structure, siloing can result in numerous deleterious effects, such as redundant work, employee frustration and dissatisfaction, and overall friction with regard to company initiatives.
Imagine, for instance, a marketing department which launches a new, elaborate promotion, but doesn’t involve any other departments in its development. This might result in very little buy-in from the sales department as they might have some input on the contents of the promotion, plus a missed opportunity to involve the organization’s training and development department to better educate employees on the promotion’s details. Now the company has invested a lot of time and resources into a marketing campaign that is hamstrung from the beginning due to an insulated, siloed approach which squanders company resources in terms of time, money, and human capital.
With so many business functions being cross-functional in nature (whether they’re viewed that way or not), it’s essential to proactively break down these silos whenever possible. While it’s certainly not easy, especially as a company increases in size, there are strategies which can help.
Silo Breaking Strategies
It’s important to make sure departments are not overly insulated, and this can be accomplished in a number of ways. With regard to architecture, it can be helpful to design mixing areas where people of all different departments can congregate. Perhaps it’s an open office area or lounge, which can lead to better cross-pollination between employees.
Moreover, rotating positions can be quite effective, wherein employees have stints in a variety of departments where they can make personal connections and learn the ins and outs of other functional areas. Internal company conferences and forums can be another effective tool. Regardless of what the topic is, by having representatives from across an organization it can lead to synergies and a feeling of being vested in achieving particular goals that may only be tangentially related to one’s personal department. Someone in sales might actually have a great suggestion for an internal conference on logistics, and their involvement might mean better future collaboration between internal groups. Jack Welch, famed former CEO of GE, was a big proponent of these internal conferences.
Another question to ask is what kind of carrots are you hanging out there to encourage collaboration within your organization? And can people see how their personal success is tied to that of other internal groups? Imagine setting goals and giving bonuses based on metrics that involve multiple departments. How about creating a contest to solve a particular company problem wherein people from all across the organization can pitch ideas for a reward – perhaps monetary or some extra vacation time. This can get people to think outside of their silo.
Information Flow & Technology
The flow of information within an organization is hugely important as it assures that all parties are informed about what is happening. This visibility helps keep parties on the same page and protects against the resentment people feel when they think that information has been withheld from them, even if this wasn’t intentional. Likewise, free-flowing information also helps prevent duplicated effort, for instance, if one department could benefit from the research that has already been conducted by another department. Investing in technology that makes this flow of data easier will pay dividends with regard to efficiencies gained through resource sharing and collaboration.
Having a Common Goal with Leadership Buy-In
Ultimately, vision starts at the top of an organization, so leadership buy-in to a shared goal and common vision makes sure that all the above suggestions are properly and enthusiastically implemented. Departmental leaders really set the tone for their workers and because of this, they are the first keys to overcoming institutional silos.
It’s well established that silos aren’t healthy for any organization, but sometimes it’s hard to see or think beyond our own department. One way to think about it that can help reframe it for yourself and your employees is to think about your business from your customer’s perspective. They shouldn’t experience anything but a seamless experience from your company, and this requires an organization that shares resources and communicates effectively from within. This is the only way to assure that a customer’s experience isn’t hampered by hardened internal structures.
Training & Team Building
Cross-functional training, especially in the areas of communication, leadership, and teamwork can be great for people in different departments to get to know one another. Through engaging shared experiences, colleagues can build rapport and trust between one another and start to chip away at internal barriers.
While not an easy task, silo busting is worth the effort and will lead to a more effective organization. It comes down to a matter of company culture and promoting collaboration and serving the end customer over protecting internal fiefdoms. Unity of vision is paramount, and leadership participation is key — by implementing the strategies above, hopefully, you can overcome the scourge of silos.
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