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Smash those Silos!

One of the biggest impediments to workplace success is poor communication. This can manifest itself in many different forms and mediums; however, the worst of this lot is when organizations end up creating workplace silos that function as their own (seemingly) independent work units. Silos can take the form of departments that try to operate on their own, independent from all other work groups, or they take the form of specific geographies that try to operate on their own. Silos can be particularly problematic for organizations that require an integrated, end to end approach to achieve customer satisfaction – whether through the creation of a product or the delivery of a service.

HammerSilos are typically created based on some combination of poor leadership, subject matter expertise or rapid organizational growth. This post is going to focus on the impact of the first two – poor leadership and real or perceived subject matter expertise. “Leaders” who are often not confident in their abilities and who feel the need to micromanage, manipulate and control information and communication are typically guilty of creating silos. For example, I am sure we have all seen or heard of leaders/managers that try to control communications, policies, procedures, etc. to fit their own needs. They segregate and alienate other departments or geographies so that they can control everything. By doing this, they try to ensure that all communication, etc. runs through them and therefore they control the message and the medium. Office and departments are “not allowed” to talk to each other and the “leader” in question brokers all communication between the parties.

Silos also get built when particular groups are “allowed” to position themselves as subject matter experts and are allowed to not be accountable to anyone. Again, this behaviour is enabled by poor leadership, but it starts out with an approach from an organization’s management team that a particular group is indispensable and therefore, nothing applies to them. Quite often, but not always, this occurs with highly technical groups (software developers for instance), R&D types and those that control financial information. Leadership teams allow these niche groups to develop their own working silos for fear that they become unhappy and leave or negatively impact the company in some other way. Basically, they are allowed to operate in their own silo based on FEAR. In essence, they have created a caste system where the upper caste is not accountable to anyone or anything. Please note – you will notice that nowhere have I referenced performance. I am not talking about treating your star performers differently; I am merely referencing groups as a collective here – this is an important distinction.

These types of destructive behaviors have a profound effect on organizations. Decision making is often crippled, innovation becomes stagnant and overall morale and engagement dies. In essence, silo building cripples your organizational culture and brand. If your organization hopes to grow and attract/retain talent, you have to get rid of the silos and the managers that have created them.

This is where the true leaders (including HR leaders) come in to play. Do not allow silos to be built. Don’t stand on the sidelines while this type of destructive behaviour occurs in your companies. You have a responsibility to smash those silos. Address the unacceptable behaviours that are occurring. Hold people accountable for building effective teams and reward those that embrace your organizational values and champion teamwork. Find the communication and change champions in your companies and make sure that they are front and centre. Do NOT reward subversive behaviours from your managers. Anything that is done that is not for the benefit of the organization should be addressed immediately. If you have folks that don’t want to get onboard with this, it may be time to part ways with them as they are holding you and your company back. So let’s pick up our hammers and take this call to action to start smashing those silos. In the words of one of my favourite bloggers, Jay Kuhns, “Who’s with me?”

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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