Today, as we continue the How-to-series, Consultant Proficiency Resources (CPR) LLC considers removing silos within the work environment. Silo comes from farmyards, where large containers keep grain separate. In the business world, silos can be created due to divisions by departments, skill sets, and distance, or it can be an invisible line drawn within the same office space. Silos in business can be detrimental to the health of the business. According to research, silos reduce efficiency, morale, and productivity and create a more competitive environment. Silos can also result from system limitations that prevent information sharing. Throughout a period, a silo mindset or silo thinking can also develop.
In a small business, the owner or leader manages employees according to the rules and routines that define its organizational structure. If there are many rules, the leader will manage employees formally, ensuring that the culture is orderly. This is one way, the business owner permits a silo mentality to develop. Another way in which silos creep in is when the leader approves employees seeking to protect their team's territory. The leader signals to others that a silo mentality can exist successfully in the culture. The structure of a business itself, or the jobs employees do in relationship to one another, can foster a silo mentality. In such cases, employees typically stick to their roles, which can produce closed-mindedness, i.e., foster silos.
Indeed Career Guide magazine (2022) offered some causes/effects of silos as well as solutions for stomping out silos (Engagebay, 2023). Let's consider the below recommendations:
A-Causes for Organizational Silos
Leaders are the core of a business's operations, managing people, resources, and processes while providing an example for employees to work from. When leaders exhibit shortcomings in their abilities, it can affect entire departments. Top managers help establish an overall tone for how the business operates and set an example of the company's values.
Leadership silos can also cause a divergence in leadership. If methods, goals, and expectations don't align in the leadership team, even the most minor teams can feel the effects. Leadership divergence can confuse and leave teams stuck in their projects without guidance.
The way a business structures itself can also foster a silo mentality. The business owner or leader unknowingly encourages a lack of collaboration by structuring departments or positions around individuality instead of teamwork. Silos can develop when employees believe they're on their own for projects. They may work harder to obtain resources before others, gather more resources than necessary, or prevent others from obtaining the resources they need.
Business structures typically follow a "ladder" pattern, with senior managers at the top. While this business structure has many benefits, its most significant shortcoming is creating a silo mentality that can keep a business from progressing. By focusing on a team-oriented business structure, businesses can reduce the effects of the silo mentality. This means encouraging teamwork, supporting team efforts with progress meetings, and listening to feedback from team members.
Communication is essential to teamwork and breaking the silo mentality because it helps connect people and departments. Good communication can ensure everyone understands their role, help teams and departments voice their needs and collaborate more effectively, and help keep the management team connected with everyone else. Communication challenges can create a silo mentality by making departments, teams, or employees feel isolated or ignored. A great way to combat this is by encouraging honest communication between team members and providing tools, such as meeting or communication software, to facilitate conversation.
4-Unclear roles or expectations
When teams or departments thoroughly understand their role in the company and what's expected of them, they can be more collaborative and accurate in their work. Unclear roles and expectations can lead to duplicate projects, instructions that aren't followed, and a general misunderstanding of what you expect the teams to accomplish daily. Setting clear roles and expectations means communicating project and business needs via meetings or briefings and maintaining constant communication between management and labor.
B-Effects of Silos
Silos can have many effects on a business. Here are some common effects of silos in business according to an Indeed 2023 article:
When teams and departments communicate well with one another, the business can maintain or increase its production. A silo mentality causes separation, so the individual pieces of the business aren't working together effectively to meet production goals. Production goals help a business meet its bottom line and provide a sense of accomplishment for the teams or departments working on them.
2-Leveraging unique skill sets incorrectly
A silo mentality creates an environment where individual skills and talents become the focus of employees or teams. Teams and employees focus on what their talents can offer instead of what combining talents, and skills can offer the business. This separation means that departments don't consider other teams' skills when they encounter challenges, potentially increasing the effectiveness of that challenge. Unique skills and talents can be excellent assets to a business when they're paired with each other.
3-Reducing the quality of the customer experience
Customers experience the mentality of the business through interaction with products and services. A silo mentality can cause the overall quality of the customer experience to drop through lower-quality products, services, or customer service.
C-Solutions for Silos in Business
Some solutions for reducing or eliminating silos in your business, according to Indeed magazine:
1-Nurture unified vision and values
When everyone understands the company's ultimate vision and fundamental values, it provides a reference point for teams and departments. Please do so immediately if you have not identified your mission, vision, value, and pillars. Cultivating a cohesive culture builds trust.
Use collaborative tools to bring remote divisions and enhance socialization. In today's workforce, digital collaboration can be cost-effective and progressive. Some platforms may include:
Project management platforms – Preferably one with chat and commenting and real-time collaboration features, like Xebrio, Asana, or ClickUp.
Shared documents – Google Docs and Google Sheets enable up to 100 people to collaborate on a live document simultaneously.
Data management tools – These can collate data from other platforms regarding key initiatives and business objectives, so all teams are kept up-to-date with what actions and events in other teams
Virtual meetings-zoom, Prezi
3-Motivate instead of dictate
Today's environment leaders achieve more through motivation. Leaders are encouraged to learn how to motivate each employee since no two employees are alike. Motivation means inspiring someone to do a task rather than dictating it.
4-Make communication easier
Communication is essential to trust and teamwork. By facilitating good communication, leaders can take steps toward preventing a silo mentality. Consider hosting meetings on leadership, communication in the workplace, and company goals to unify everyone within the company.
5-Focus on the collective
Focusing on the individual as a singular force helps reinforce a silo mentality, but focusing on an individual and what they can add to the team creates a collaborative mentality. It's essential to reinforce and encourage individual skills in a team effort. For example, instead of saying, "You have great artistic skills that help you succeed here," you can say, "Your artistic skills are an excellent addition to the team and have helped us reach this month's goal."
6. Define shared accountabilities
Once you nurture a unified vision, you must translate it into the day-to-day behaviors of teams and individual employees. By defining shared accountabilities, you can pull your teams together instead of dividing them. To further reduce silos in business, you can have two or more teams work together on a task that involves giving a joint presentation to senior management.
7. Set common goals
To beat the silo mentality, it is critical to determine the underlying issues that may be causing the ripple effect of silos. Often, companies identify several strategic goals and objectives for every department. However, it is imperative to define the single, qualitative focus common among all departments as the top priority. When all employees are aware of this common goal and understand how they can contribute as individuals.
8. Create cross-functional teams
Silo thinking tends to get deeply entrenched in corporate culture. You can break the silo mentality by encouraging cross-functionality across departments. A leader may also incorporate weekly or monthly shadowing of employees across departments or disciplines.
This is a beautiful method to have employees experience the day-to-day function of someone's role.
Rule of thumb
If there are fewer rules within an organization, the employees will enjoy a flexible culture instead of more strict rules aligned with a formal culture plagued with silos. Silos are reinforced by a leader that leads with an "all-or-nothing management style."
An effective leader should understand how silos are formed. The leader should then be ready to do the work that constructs a team approach, devising a more collaborative culture.