Adrienne Fox asked Mario Moussa how you would define a silo in an organization. Mario thinks silos could be psychological as well as physical barriers. Silos could separate people, business units, or location and prevent people from collaborating with one another. Silos exist within our workspaces and us. It’s natural as humans to realize we don’t concern ourselves with our colleagues in other physical locations or doing other work. It’s not done intentionally or with any malice, we just naturally focus on our work and what needs to be done from our perspective.
Marios was also asked what aspect of the company’s organization contributes to silos? He feels the geography between units or departments and organizational design can create physical silos that impede the flow of information. It is hard to learn from someone if they work in another building or another country or speak another language of business. He makes an important point that it doesn’t just affect large companies. Even with small companies, office doors has the potential to create silos. If I don’t talk with you or see you, I may not think of you or it may be harder to relate to you.
It can be argued that companies miss opportunities and solutions if they are siloed. Work may be done more slowly with less collaboration and less creativity. With a siloed organization, the tendency is to be around like minded people – so there may be fewer ideas and creativity as many of those people think the same way.
EXAMPLES OF HEAVILY SILOED ORGANIZATIONS
I thought it was telling this company veteran quickly went to her company rolodex to get the information she needed. She didn’t concern herself with the source of the problem; her main concern was her immediate problem. There were other seasoned employees who employed the same approach. With so many employees just worried about their task and ignoring the larger issue, over the years, very little positive change will occur, especially at the grass roots level.
The article goes on to say that silos are not destructive designs created by evil people. Of course, most large organizations may have some back stabbers and empire builders but systemic, organization wide silos are a result of systems. Company silos may or may not be recognized by senior management – if senior management are concerned with silos, what steps are taken to address an organization? Would the steps taken to address depend on the severity of the siloed organization?
WHAT COULD ENCOURAGE COLLABORATION?
Mario Moussa is asked if there are any HR policies that could encourage more data sharing and collaboration. He’s not sure if there’s more collaboration in place, if HR would be able to reward cross-functional behavior as it’s hard to trace collaborative work to the bottom line.
Mario feels incentive driven behavior by HR will not exclusively change behavior. The tone has to be set by leadership – show the entire organization how committed they are to this type of initiative. One other thing Mario mentioned about improving cross-functional behavior is setting a positive tone is to promote people who collaborate well to help break up silos.
A sweeping generalization may be that the older the organization, the more it’s siloed. That may not always be true but it’s been my business experience with a handful of companies in which I’m familiar.
Regardless, leadership has to be very committed to this initiative and not just through lip service. Especially if this is another corporate vision or initiative that may lose steam after a year or two as other priorities take over. It may take larger or older companies more time to break down these silos so the commitment has to be genuine and long-term.
Job rotation and cross-training are ways some companies have dismantled silos. Information networking opportunities helps build strong relationships. Relationship building at an organization can build strong relationships which heavily affects productivity and creativity.
The article does mention physical architecture can improve collaboration; open spaces may help break down silos. Including common workplaces, sofas, soft lighting, and cappuccino machines encouraged people to talk, share ideas and build relationships.
CAN COLLABORATION EVER BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE?
According to Mario, some sales teams do worse when outsides offer to help. A lot of time may be involved. Appreciate other people’s values, learn another language, it’s very time consuming. Sometimes it’s energizing and rewarding and sometimes not.
The cost of cross-unit collaboration is high. You have to learn another language, you have to appreciate others’ values systems, you have to negotiate terms, and you have to invest in time-consuming meetings. Sometimes it’s energizing, and sometimes it’s not. HR professionals should assess whether the effort is worth the payoff. If it’s not, people should be left alone to work in their silos.
Another short-term approach to improve large company communication would be to have a panel or group of people whom employees could contact with information sharing or communication issues. A panel of employees who are very knowledge about the company and using understanding and empathy to help those who have questions about contacts or obtaining information. That new model would not necessarily directly address the source of the issue but would set a positive tone that the company is interested in improving their communication and collaboration between departments, business units, buildings or locations.