There are few things that are more destructive to an organisation than silo mentality. What is that? It’s when teams within an organisation close themselves off to the rest of the business. They refuse to share information or collaborate without other departments – or individuals – within the business, and the knock on effect of this is that the business suffers from lowered morale, poor productivity, mistrust, and open conflict.
You do want your business’ teams to be close-knit groups and you want like-minded people to collaborate with one another. But at the same time you want to make sure that this doesn’t start to form silos within the organisation. To help prevent this from being an issue, there are five critical things that you should reinforce within the business.
1) Unify the business under one vision
Make sure that all the leaders within the business are unified behind a single vision for the company. Spell it out and make it an actual written statement that people can refer back to. Then make sure that the entire business remains constantly on track to achieve that vision. If every leader within the business shares a common goal, then groups within the organisation are more likely to remain on a similar track to one another, and therefore more likely to naturally collaborate. In other words, make sure the company culture is about “our” company, rather than “my” department within it.
2) Create clear plans and then stick to them
One of the things that causes silos to erupt within an organisation is when accountability isn’t established, and a lack of organisation means that there is unproductive stagnation going on within some units. Develop a clear schedule for each team and individual that clearly lays out KPIs, and then increase transparency across the entire organisation so that each group is aware of the projects of the others. The more clarity there is within a business, the less insular groups can become within it.
3) Have groups collaborate and train one another
One of the best ways to defeat the dreaded silos is to develop a greater understanding within the organisation on what each department actually does. The best way to do this is to offer staff the opportunity to cross-train and spend some time working directly in another department. The IT guy might spend some time in the marketing team in order to better understand how to leverage the company’s technology to assist a marketing campaign. A technician working on one major project might be called in to help troubleshoot a problem on a different team’s project. The more that people in an organisation understand what their co-workers do, and the more opportunities they have to be supportive on one another, the more collaborative they’re likely to be, and this keeps the risk of silos developing to a minimum.
4) Reward creative cross-department thinking
Give your staff the opportunity to spend some time developing their own ideas that might benefit the business. At the concept stage for these ideas, an individual will almost certainly need to talk to people with different skillsets in order to further develop the idea before it can be taken to management, and this means that staff will reach out to counterparts in other teams. Not only does this help to improve trust and encourage collaboration in the normal day-to-day work within the office, but of those ideas that staff develop, some of them may will result in new business opportunities, products, and ways of doing business that can benefit the entire organisation.
5) Encourage socialisation!
Give employees spaces to relax and play. Put a table tennis table in the common area. Have Friday drinks (and insist people don’t just have their beer at their desk as they work on). Organise BBQs, lunches, or other events where people have a chance to interact with others outside of their immediate working groups. You don’t need for everyone in the organisation to be best friends, but if people know more about the other people in the office than just their name and favourite tie, you’ll find that a baseline of trust and respect for each other is developed, and that in turn helps to make sure that people feel they can be open with one another.
Guarding against silos developing in your organisation is a process that needs to be on-going. As new staff are brought into the organisation, the need to be on-boarded into the company culture, and as people are promoted into management positions, they need to do their part to take responsibility for maintaining an open a transparent company culture. Keeping an eye out for silos as they start to develop, and addressing them early on, is a far easier approach to a company’s culture than to try and “fix” things one the toxicity and mistrust has been allowed to foster.