One of the challenges for many leaders, particularly in larger organisations, is to get their people to stop working in silos and to start thinking in terms of the business as a whole.
In tougher economic climates, in particular, we often see the tension between different divisions or functional areas. Each division endeavours to do their absolute best, but is oblivious to the impact their actions have on other parts of the business. Such tensions can occur, for example, between the Sales and Finance functions. The salespeople feel certain that they ‘needed to negotiate to this level in order to secure the business.’ The finance people are frustrated that the salespeople didn’t follow the processes and protocols, that they don’t appreciate the risk associated with their actions.
This silo mentality and its resulting tensions will be visible to your clients too, and it damages your reputation.
Sometimes it shows in subtle ways, like the pause or tone of voice when a person’s name is mentioned. Sometimes it is overt, like when a person says to the client, “Well, she actually shouldn’t have told you that, it’s not correct” or “I’m going to need to talk to Nick about these promises he’s making. We’re really not making any money on this deal.”
Blames and excuses lead the client to believe that you are not a cohesive business. It becomes easier for them to consider doing business with your competitors.
Understanding Why Silos Exist
As human beings we like to put things into groups; it helps us to organise our world, it enables items with common characteristics to be placed together. It gives us a sense of belonging.
In business, we tend to also group our people, and the most common grouping is into functional areas. Working in a functional team allows people to work according to their strengths, and enables ease of delivery, with the team as a whole being responsible for delivering the results for the function.
Functional grouping enables cross-fertilisation of ideas and the team members usually work in close proximity to each other so the flow of ideas can be facilitated easily. At meetings, little time needs to be spent explaining the details or being careful about the jargon and acronyms used. Everyone is familiar with these so the communication can be free-flowing and efficient as well as effective.
Accepting that Silos Can Also Hurt Your Business
How then can this notion of grouping be detrimental to a business?
The problem for most businesses today is that customers and projects often rely on people from different functional areas working together in a positive and seamless fashion. While productivity within the functional silos can appear to be high, the overall productivity of the business is often significantly lower than the sum of the individual parts.
This is because each functional area spends the majority of its time looking inward; that is, checking that its processes are as streamlined and clear as possible which in turn enables them to optimise their productivity levels. They tend to spend very little time looking outwards; in other words. making sure that their processes also dovetail with the processes of other functions in the business.
This inward versus outward focus is what sets up frustration and conflict in business, in what we commonly term the silo mentality.
How to Break Down Silos
Communicate the Needs of Each Division
When functional areas do not communicate frequently and openly with each other there can be a lack of clarity of the common direction. Subsequent decisions about the relative importance of various tasks and even decisions about priorities and deliverables can then occur.
Educate Teams on the Wider Organisation’s Goals
Leaders need to intervene and articulate a clear picture of how the efforts of all teams are interconnected. They need to redirect their teams’ energies to focus on collaborating internally, and to competing externally with those companies who are their genuine competitors. The different functions need to genuinely listen to each other’s concerns and obstacles, and then agree on the range of parameters acceptable to them both. Their energies can then be directed towards achieving the overall goal, rather than feeling frustrated with each other.
Build Trust Between Functions
Building trust takes energy and time. But ‘time’ in itself won’t build trust. Proactive and empathic communication is needed between functions to help build trust, generating agreement and clarity. In addition, each function must keep its commitments and show its competence by delivering the agreed outcomes.
If you want to LEARN MORE about how you can break down the silos in your organisation, we have a series of techniques, proven with clients over the last 15 years. Contact World Class Teams on 1300 085 248 or email firstname.lastname@example.org