Silos form in a business due to organizational emphasis on historical structure concepts that were believed to make sharing data and knowledge more efficient. In fact, the opposite is true. Silos cause trust and communication to break down between departments and functions. Many business owners consider the “silo mentality” to be one of the most damaging barriers to success they face and one of the most difficult to address. Classic silos that exist in many companies today are functional silos, hierarchical silos, and constituency silos.
When silos dominate a company we find that employees feel “out of the loop” due to a lack of information flow. We also see little coordination in decision making and a serious nonalignment between the goals of individual functions and those of the company because of a lack of knowledge and data sharing. Not addressing the silo issue inevitably results in less efficient performance and poor employee morale.
It’s important to watch for warning signs and act quickly. This is HOW we advise our client to recognize a silo mentality:
Keep your focus on three things: cooperation, communication and collaboration. In general these are the areas where silos begin either with managers or employees.
Watch to see if employees from different departments interact with each other during company meetings and social events. Lack of relationships and interactions can be a sign that they function separately.
Be aware of “blame-storming.” When problems arise, do people begin blaming other departments? Do they seem to be in competition with one another such as withholding resources or not respecting the other department’s deadlines? During Leadership team meetings do the participants act as if their importance comes from pointing out when other participants ideas are wrong or do they help make ideas better?
Check to see if departments use different forms or processes to accomplish the same thing. Well established silos will often try to evolve processes to set themselves apart and establish independence.
Look for task duplication. One of the most common and serious signs of silos is task duplication. Not understanding who owns a responsibility is a sign that information is not flowing from one department to another. This can be observed in small tasks all the way up to major projects.
Watch for limited collaboration. Collaboration is a key step to preventing silos. Be aware of how often departments formally collaborate on projects. Keep in mind that informal collaboration is not enough to keep your business free of silos.
If you determine that a silo mentality is established in your organization, here are a few steps you can take.
Clarify your company goals and communicate them to everyone. Challenge your managers and employees to develop department goals that align and reinforce the goals of the company overall.
Enable your associates to identify and overcome barriers to those goals. Review and support their efforts to do so.
Evaluate your recognition and reward systems. Find ways to make sure people are rewarded and/or recognized for their contribution to company goals rather than just individual departmental goals.
Educate and train departments together. Expand your traditional training to include specific modules designed to teach best practices for cooperation and collaboration. Cross departmental team building exercises can also be integrated into the program.
Our consultants have helped many clients eliminate the problem of silos in their organization through our process of “helping organizations with the HOW”. Experience shows us that the secret to success is to act quickly and to tackle the problem head on.