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The Silo Mentality: How To Break Down The Barriers

The Silo Mentality as defined by the Business Dictionary is a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.

Silo is a business term that has been passed around and discussed at many board room tables over the last 30 years. Unlike many other trendy management terms this is one issue that has not disappeared over the years.

Departmental silos are seen as a growing pain for most organizations of all sizes. It is the duty of the executive leaders and management to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mind-set to break down this destructive organizational barrier.

It Trickles Down from the Top

The silo mindset does not appear accidentally nor is it a coincidence that most organizations struggle with interdepartmental turf wars. When we take a deeper a look at the root cause of these issues, we find that more often than not silos are the result of a conflicted leadership team.

Many executives may look at their organization and dismiss department inefficiencies and lack of cross-functional solutions with immature employees, lack of basic training, or simply the inability for some employees to play nicely with one another.

Unfortunately, while these behaviors may be a result of the silo mentality; it is not the root cause. These assumptions will actually lead to long term harm to the organization as a whole by creating resentment and cynicism within the teams. Most employees become frustrated with their department and the organization as a whole when they have identified the problems, but can’t do anything about it.

It is the responsibility of the leadership team to recognize this and rise above to create effective, long-term solutions that are scalable, executable, and realistic.

Here are 5 ways to encourage a unified front.

1. Create a Unified Vision.

As written by Patrick Lencioni in his book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars; “Silos – and the turf wars they enable – devastate organizations. They waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals.” He goes on to advise leaders to tear down silos by moving past behavioral issues and address the contextual issues that are present at the heart of the organization.

For many organizations, this means that not only do all employees of the company need to row in the same direction, but the executive teams must be engaged and at the forefront steering the boat. It is imperative that the leadership team agrees to a common and unified vision for the organization. There must be a large level of executive buy in and core understanding of the company’s long term goals, department objectives, and key initiatives within the leadership team prior to passing it down to the teams.

A unified leadership team will encourage trust, create empowerment, and break managers out of the “my department” mentality and into the “our organization” mentality.

2. Work Towards Achieving a Common Goal.

Once the leadership team has agreed to the over-arching unified vision of the organization, it is important that this team determines underlying root problems that may be causing the ripple effect of silos. Many times there are multiple tactical goals and objectives identified, but it is up to the Leadership team to remain on task and define the single, qualitative focus that is shared among them as the top priority.

Once the “elephant in the room” has been identified it is important that all executives and all members of management work together towards achieving that common goal. It is also important that all employees are aware of this objective and understand how they

can make an impact individually.

In Virginia Anderson and Lauren Johnson’s book, Systems Thinking Basics, they define systems thinking as a holistic and big-picture view of the whole. It is recognizing the interconnections between parts of a system and synthesizing them into a unified view. This thinking, along with a unified focus, should be applied across teams to encourage collaboration, team work and ultimately accomplishment of the common goal.

3. Motivate and Incentivize.

Kudos to execs and management teams who are able to successfully establish a unified, common goal and understand how the various parts of a whole intertwine. Half of the battle is won. The final steps in eliminating silos cover execution and implementation. Motivation can vary across teams, and most importantly across individuals.