Business Silo Cure and Prevention

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CEO’s, CHRO’s, Engagement officers and other cultural Ninjas in the world of work are in a constant battle against not only the traditional way of doing things, but also need to overcome human nature. There is a passionate cry for some single entity to be in charge and this message must be filtered with reason in order to make progress. The building of walls around organizational units that extend vertically and not laterally may give a comforting feeling of being efficient, but in reality this idea leaves a lot to be desired. At one time silos made sense. Control mechanisms could not extend beyond the horizon of the manager until technology changed all that. Environments change and organizations today need to be more fluid. We have the communication tools to have free flowing data, but often find ourselves hindered by the people in control of the message.

Traditional organizations that were built from the ground up with the silo concept were by groups that were focused on a specific interest, project, or as a means to create autonomy in a business unit. Take a quick look at why those silos are not useful today.

  1. Communications laterally in an organization are either non-existent or must travel upward and then retransmitted downward in another silo.
  2. Collaboration is thwarted by the impossibility to communicate effectively with other people and their ideas.
  3. Innovation is difficult because there is a mentality of reaching peak performance in one group and then tossing it over the transom to another group without continuity or follow-up.
  4. Feedback is impossible to analyze because the ongoing actions and plans of other groups are not known or only hearsay.
  5. Duplication of efforts and the associated costs are necessary to maintain stability of each sub-unit within the organization.
  6. Prioritization is difficult because suboptimization in one unit may contribute to overall inefficiencies in the group as a whole.
  7. Data flow outside of the silo is hindered not only by organizational barriers, but also by dysfunctional competitiveness between groups that withhold valuable information.
  8. Decision making by silo leadership happens in a vacuum without knowledge of the course plotted by managers in other groups.
  9. Employee complacency is born out of being in the dark about the overall value of their contributions since there is a nonalignment of priorities and lack of feedback.
  10. Loyalties tend to be to the silo and not the company.

NoSiloTo compile a list of the benefits of imploding silos in favor of a more universal model requires only re-reading the top ten list of problems, considering the source of the barrier in each, analyzing the degree of negative influence by that barrier, and organizing an effort to restructure the group.

Here is the dilemma: No living organism, including a company silo, is predisposed to blowing itself up. The best viewpoint of actions that translate to positive results probably rests internally within the company. In cases where a complex reorganization may require uncomfortable decisions, external consultants may be better able to do an honest assessment and make suggestions. In either case, there must be a top level decision and firm resolve to make it happen. Also, reorganization alone does not work. Eliminating the barriers to communication does not mean killing the organization and starting over, but to kill the problems causing silos in the first place. The strongest case must be made, and enforced, to give up autonomy for collaboration.

Breaking up silos in favor of a more nimble and progressive environment begins at the top and flows down. It is here that the company mission translates to core values that require communication, collaboration, innovation and unquestioned feedback. There are problems and dangers associated with forcing cross-functional cooperation. Charging leaders to check their egos and to network within to find optimal solutions takes courage and a faith that the team can work together toward common objectives. A culture of inclusiveness that welcomes ideas from all levels within an organization will undoubtedly come up with the best solutions.

This article started with a bang and the crashing of silos to make room for progress. Are there dangers to breaking up silos? Click on the link to watch this classic failure!


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