Silo mentalities: identification and eradication

June 2019  |  FEATURE  |  BOARDROOM INTELLIGENCE

Financier Worldwide Magazine

June 2019 Issue


Few things corrode a company’s performance more than a silo mentality. Left unchecked, a silo mindset – an insular management system in which one information system or subsystem is incapable of reciprocal operation with others that are, or should be, related – is likely to result in reduced trust, low morale and an overall drop in productivity.

“Silos are an organisational form that segments an organisation into different parts, based on functions, geographies or product groups,” says Dr Jacqueline Conway, founding director at Waldencroft. “The usual rationale is that as organisations become larger and more complex, we use silos to create more cleanly delineated roles for people based on their professional area of expertise.”

Identification

In order to break down the organisational barrier which silo thinking represents, its existence must first be identified and then followed by a plan to achieve its eradication.

“Silos happen when employees are unwilling to share information outside their own groups or departments because they do not believe that other departments share the same priorities or have the same goals in mind,” explains David Goulden, product director at Clarizen. “This hoarding of information leads to a silo mentality, the key indicators of which are misaligned goals, poor collaboration in the workplace, incompatible systems, lack of shared information and little visibility of projects – leading to poor business agility and decreased competitiveness.”

While companies may undertake all manner of studies and research to obtain hard data, identifying the existence of a silo mentality is often done anecdotally.

“There are obvious indicators, such as the use of the words ‘them’ and ‘us’ or ‘that is not my job’ during inter-departmental discussions,” suggests Simon Stapleton, co-founder of Truthsayers. “Often there is low awareness of how other departments operate, evidenced by ineffective hand-offs between departments, such as when the transfer of work has not been designed or implemented collaboratively. Objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) are set and measured entirely within a department’s scope and often there is little encouragement to think about the wider impact.”

Eradication

In the view of Ms Conway, in order to eradicate insular outlooks, companies need to explore integrative mechanisms that allow people to work and interact with others across organisational boundaries. “Such mechanisms promote the free flow of ideas,” she says. “But to support this there needs to be empowerment, so that people are able to act on their new information. You have to give up your desire for prediction and control. True innovation and breakthrough often has an alchemistic property to it.”

While companies may undertake all manner of studies and research to obtain hard data, identifying the existence of a silo mentality is often done anecdotally.

That said, companies need to analyse the root causes of silos before applying eradication solutions. “Some silo cultures are regional, while others are the result of functional issues, historical norms, acquisitions and even reward mechanisms,” explains Mr Goulden. “The good news is that there are practical ways to overcome teams working in silos. These include getting team leaders on board and building trust between teams and individuals.

“A common framework of culture and goals should be established to outline cross-team cooperative responsibilities,” he continues. “Having this common approach along with mechanisms, such as a collaborative software platform, can empower employees to share vital business information and proactively cooperate on joint projects.”

Evaluation

Once eradicated, constant monitoring is required to ensure a silo mentality does not creep back into a company’s operations – oversight that should emanate from the upper echelons.

“The behaviour employees observe in their leaders flows throughout the entire business,” asserts Mr Stapleton. “If leaders are denigrating their colleagues, this attitude permeates. The answer is to build cross-functional teams and make them accountable for the delivery of expected outcomes and key results. Companies must have an effective mechanism to assess the attitudes of employees, teams and departments. Traditional employee surveys have not been successful in identifying silo mentalities, but there are now more effective methods based on neuroscience.”

In Mr Goulden’s experience, a top-down approach is the most effective in preventing, reducing or, ideally, eliminating silos. “The roadmap needs to be well-developed and truly supported by leadership,” he says. “The ‘truly’ part is critical. Support cannot be superficial or under-resourced, and leaders cannot ignore the problem or assume it will go away on its own – it will not. This is the key to making the de-silo process as easy as possible.”

Removing the unhealthy rivalry and turf wars which silos represent is challenging. In order to make work lives easier, more productive and generally more pleasant, it is crucial for companies to encourage cross-departmental engagement via suitable communication channels and collaborative tools. According to Mr Goulden, ultimately, “success without silos – for individuals and companies – is the best defence against them returning”.

© Financier Worldwide


BY

Fraser Tennant


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