Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with a former colleague who shared about their struggles working in a siloed organization. While listening to this all-too-familiar story, I couldn't help reflecting on one of my own experiences. My client had just completed a series of acquisitions and was facing challenges in their efforts to integrate the new entities into the organization. The acquired companies continued to work as they always had, within familiar organizational boundaries. Decisions affecting the new organization continued to be socialized only with their pre-acquisition peers. Chaos erupted as projects and processes were quickly found to be redundant or in conflict with little hope for resolution across group boundaries.
One of the privileges of external consultants is the invitation to view organizations from different perspectives. With the leadership's support, I sought out the influencers in each of the newly acquired entities and met with them one-on-one. The themes were common and clear: they lacked trust in their new coworkers, they wanted to protect themselves, and they wanted to prove their value at the new organization.
When I finally brought all of these influencers together to share in what I had learned, they were surprised to know that their counterparts across the other entities shared the same concerns and reservations. To get these entities out of their silos and collaborating with their new peers, we invited people across entities to participate in working sessions to build upon their collective knowledge and generate creative solutions for the business. One group was able to cut a project timeline in half when they realized they could borrow material from a different group that had piloted a similar project rather than create everything from scratch. The combination of different groups and perspectives generated hundreds of new ideas, and the effort built trust, relationships, and new partnerships across the organization.
Risks of Operating in Silos
Picture a non-metaphorical silo. Few access points and the absence of windows protects the contents from the environment outside. People within an organization often construct silos to serve a similar protective purpose. Though the lack of visibility into or out of a literal silo may not be cause for concern, in an organization, it can be immensely destructive. The trust necessary for collaboration is compromised. Communication between parties is cut off, leading to unnecessary duplication and conflict. The sense of shared goals and achievements is impaired.
Siloed organizations are ill-equipped to identify and respond to opportunities and threats quickly. Teams struggle to be efficient and effective without access to the information essential to their work. Groups may work at cross-purposes and against the broader organization's strategic goals.
An Approach to Breaking the Siloed Mentality
Have a conversation. Identify the influencers that represent each of the siloed groups and seek their perspective on the problem. The influencers are the people best able to affect the mindsets of their respective teams.
Share what you've learned. Identify the themes that came out of your conversations and share that information. Allow people to respond to the themes and follow new leads as they come up.
Host a collaborative session. Invite the influencers to collectively explore solutions across team boundaries to key issues that came up during the initial conversations. Try incorporating sticky notes as a tool to get people up and engaged to increase active participation.
Select and share the top three ideas. Ask the group to identify their top ideas and select one for further development.
Develop a game plan. Encourage the group to develop a plan and timeline to develop and implement their idea.
Regroup. Invite people back three to six months later to share their progress, the challenges they faced and how they dealt with them, and where they may need support.
A pervasive siloing mentality can quickly destroy value across the organization. Work to understand what is causing groups to form silos, then encourage the influencers in your organization to work together to solve the problems. Your people can be your most valuable advocates in creating a collaborative environment that encourages people to work together to help the business succeed.