Dismantling the silos and rowing in the same direction

Silo – a term that has become part of our everyday business vocabulary, it has been passed around and discussed at many board room tables over the years and for many organisations is still as current today as it was last year and the year before.

Silo mentality in the workplace occurs when people specifically conclude that it is not their responsibility to coordinate their activities with peers or other groups. With this mindset, people have little interest in understanding their part in the success of the organisation as a whole.

What are the consequences of silos and how can we make progress to eliminate them?

The impact of a silo culture can have a far greater reach then just the initial discomfort and office politics it creates. It also creates:

Disconnected decision-making – in this scenario, people act based on their own local context and don’t stop to question how their habits or behaviours are influencing their peers or the organisation as a whole.

Lack of ownership – leaders struggle to engage their people in implementing vital changes. Their team members say all the right things in the weekly meetings but when they come to practise what they need to do, they do so with apathy or don’t do anything until the next meeting and so the cycle continues. 

Living according to Murphy’s Law – extremely common and yet we don’t stop to think that this is not healthy! In this culture, manager’s do nothing but firefight and live by the philosophy that ‘anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’. It is always positive to be prepared for a crisis but if we are not taking the time to address the cause, the cycle is vicious and thus the silos become greater. 

Individual brilliance with no collective initiative – even those groups that individually demonstrate the highest performance but who suffer from a silo mentality can often exhibit collective misjudgement. This phenomenon was beautifully performed prior to the 2007 financial crash. Here we have a sector which has some of the most intelligent minds in the world – the banking sector. Individually, those intelligent minds knew that there were problems with structured commodities and mortgage backed securities which could be disastrous but none of them acted as if it was there responsibility to act – instead they chose to operate as a silo. An article I read just earlier this week summarised this as follows ‘Even with an abundance of individual brilliance, the worldwide financial crash was created by widespread silo mentality that created Collective Stupidity‘. 

Blame Culture – everyone is eager to ensure that someone else is blamed for inefficiencies. Quick fixes are usually made without thinking through the consequences. This culture often creates low morale and resentment and can be a trigger of high levels of turnover and low levels of employee/customer engagement. 

Move over for the Robots – silos can be the cause of robotic thinking as individuals who were once full of energy and passion for the job are left uninterested in helping to improve processes or work collectively to improve the quality. 

These are just a handful of consequences of silos but there are many others.

There is also a focus on Customer Centricity when discussing silos. A customer centric culture needs to be built on a solid unified foundation free of silos because if your Operations Team have a different agenda to your CX/Sales team then ultimately the provision of your service will be suboptimal. The drive towards customer driven growth can be supported by the creation of alignment internally and shared accountability so that all teams understand they are serving the customer – in this culture, the focus is on the customer, not the personal benefit that comes with the silo culture.

How do we break down the silos and create alignment?

Here are some useful tips to consider to begin the process:

1. Create the unified vision and ensure that everyone is on board. Making sure everyone is on board may take time but it is time well spent. There must be a large level of executive buy in and core understanding of the company’s long term goals, department objectives, and key initiatives within the leadership team prior to passing it down to the teams. This will eradicate departmental managers acting solely in the interest of their team. A unified leadership team will create trust and empowerment.

2. Work towards the goal and ensure that every team member knows how their contribution is going to make an impact on that common goal. This is where leaders must be rigorous with their scheduled 121s and weekly team meetings and where the importance of a coaching culture comes in. Coaching can unlock a silo culture because it creates trust and transparency.

3.Motivate and incentivise your team. Once the goal has been defined make sure that the tactics your team need to execute towards that common goal are aligned with their peers both in their own team and amongst other departments. For example, if your goal is to create a better customer experience and eliminate a silo amongst your sales and ops teams, ensure your project managers and your sales team are incentivised towards that goal in the same way.

4. Measure your success. Whether that be through KPIs or scheduled meetings. It’s fundamental you know how well you are tracking against a certain goal because if it’s not working it perhaps need reviewing. 

5. Formalise an opportunity to work cross functionally. That could be that you invite the other teams into your weekly meetings and exhibit the habits and behaviours you wish all teams to display.

A former boss of mine Christophe Djaouani whom I respect deeply used to use the rowing analogy for this. His words, not mine “We are all in the same boat but if we aren’t rowing in the same direction is it any wonder we aren’t moving forward?” Wise words from a leader who has created exceptional teams in competitive markets with YoY growth and formidable customer satisfaction levels.

Get your people rowing in the same direction and you break down the silos.

Please visit us at www.mindsetassociates.com website to see how we are helping organisations break down their silos by working on the habits and behavioural patterns within those organisations and creating alignment.


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