Across the enterprise work landscape, the idea of completely eliminating the existence of silos is more of an idealistic aspiration than a realistic goal. However, the good news is that there are practical ways to overcome teams working in silos. Here are seven best practices to keep in mind and apply as needed.
- Generally, a top-down approach works most effectively to prevent or reduce silos, provided that a roadmap is well-developed and truly supported by leadership. 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 won’t!).
- A significant amount of openness, sharing, involvement, visibility and empowerment are all necessary in order to successfully move to a less-siloed enterprise work landscape.
- Contrary to what some leaders believe, tactical challenges and changes to a silo culture can indeed be productive. However, this requires a significant amount of support, coaching, independent analysis, and in many cases external expertise and advice.
- Where silos exist, it is important to analyse the root causes before applying solutions. For example, some silo cultures are regional, while others are the result of functional issues, historical norms, acquisitions, and even reward mechanisms. For example, if one team is rewarded to deliver in such a way as to ignore (at best) or counter (at worst) what and how a second team is rewarded to deliver, then the creation of silos with high walls and plenty of tension is virtually inevitable!
- Communication is key. Enterprises should make communication as visual as possible to engage staff. People need to talk to each other, feel safe in giving feedback, and believe that their feedback is being listened to and is valued by superiors. Regular working groups, heads-up meetings, and team-to-team connection meetings can all help. It is also important to remember that collaboration can (and often should) be both casual and guided.
- Education is vital. Often, people want to help, but they do not know where to start or what to do. Helping them understand the problem must come before they are expected to be part of the solution.
- Often what separates teams — and isolates them in silos — is that, functionally, they do not speak the same language (e.g. operations has its own vocabulary, so does risk, R&D, etc.). In these cases, data can sometimes be the “lowest common denominator” that bridges these teams and helps them understand that, essentially, they are working together and need to support each other’s success.
The Art of Connection
Silos are obviously problematic, and tearing them down—or at least, reducing their height and dialing back the tension—can be challenging. However, it is important for leaders to remember that, regardless of how complicated work is at times, we are all human beings and not machines. As such, it is wise to make the de-silo process as fun as possible, while encouraging engagement by using social tools that make it easy and convenient for people to connect.