Tackling silos and reaping the benefits

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Overview


We often hear how organisations contain silos and how they’re undeniably a bad thing. More often than not the breaking down of barriers can be seen as a challenge that’s difficult to tackle.

The classic view of silo-working is pockets of people doing their own thing with their own agendas and rarely – if ever – coming into contact with one another. Communication can be lacking, timekeeping may be slack, deadlines may drift by and frustrations may grow.

It could be the marketing team going off on tangents; HR consistently unable to contact the operations people or finance not providing the numbers on time. It can happen in any sector too. For example, our benchmarking data shows that in manufacturing the silos tend to be between finance and operations, while in the public sector it exists between HR and product development.

Impacts 

But, aside from increased blood pressure levels, what impact is all this having on the wider organisation?

  • It creates a culture of blame where others don’t ‘do their bit’ and it’s up to someone else to sort it
  • A lack of responsibility gradually leads to an atmosphere of ‘us versus them’ and corresponding falls in levels of employee engagement and satisfaction
  • Excuses slow processes down, things don’t happen and quality of work can often fall to that of the lowest common denominator
  • Talented people may leave an organisation at the same time that poor performing colleagues remain

You’d think therefore that the impact of silos would be difficult to ignore. But all too often there’s an unwillingness to tackle the issues, perhaps because internal customers aren’t seen as important when compared to external ones or there’s simply an assumption that the problem doesn’t exist and that everyone’s co-operating.

Ultimately, it’s human nature to be tribal and silos are a symptom of this - but working to identify and solve the problems is hugely worthwhile.

Actions

  • Look for signs and trends within your business that point to silo working and the issues that are causing the problems, whether it’s delivery, accuracy, timekeeping or quality – and then address them
  • Sit down and run a facilitation group, perhaps via a neutral party, talking about what’s wrong and what the barriers are. This exploratory work may itself reveal other silos but also acts as a real positive in encouraging engagement through being an opportunity to talk and not to point fingers
  • Get to the root of the issues, the source of the impacts and educate people about how what they do can have a knock-on effect on other departments further down the line. In other words, make people see the bigger picture and the fact that working together for common goals is to the benefit of everyone when compared to an organisation consisting of a bunch of disparate parts with their own agendas

It might be a real challenge but if done in the right way, seeking out and acting upon the existence of silos will soon start to bear fruit. The best ideas happen when people and departments talk to each other and this will lead to processes and activities being improved or removed, freeing up time for people to do their day job and creating more efficient working relationships.

Frustrations will decrease, satisfaction will increase and gaps in competencies and performance can be filled and lead to an overall boost in service delivery. Internal customers will be seen as equally if not more important than external ones and an atmosphere of respect and unity will develop.

It might be seen as a horrible job and one that’s fundamentally difficult to do but if you can be objective and get the right strategy you might be surprised to see how valuable removing silos can be.

 

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