Much has been written about the need to break down silos to improve performance. Silos could be structural, organizational barriers that exist between units, groups or functional areas. Or, they could be unintended barriers that have resulted from perceived restrictions on cross-unit collaboration. Deconstructing silos is a tremendous undertaking that can create chaos. And, reorganizing into cross-functional or cross-unit groups may create new silos if you don’t address the root causes. Consider instead another plan of action: Uncover the root causes of problems and address them in ways that build connections and integrate the people, systems and processes.
Understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts is essential to interdependency, which is a key aspect of high-performing organizations. And, opportunities abound for improving rather than deconstructing. By creating the connections between units, people see how they fit into the broader scope of the organization. Increased networking builds relationships, skill sets, and enhanced capabilities. Effective collaboration gets tasks accomplished more efficiently. Improved operational performance, flexibility, and resilience is achieved. And, a unified vision presented internally and externally increases engagement.
“Looking across silos for opportunities to improve capabilities is one thing; creating a vision for how to seize those opportunities is another. Communicating that vision effectively is harder still.”
— Martha Heller, Author, Thought Leader and Heller Search Associates CEO
Many silos are created for good reasons, such as grouping by function to allow for knowledge and resource sharing. High-functioning organizational units can have a very clear sense of purpose and direction. But, what they may not have is a clear idea of what other units do or why they exist. In this scenario, units could be working successfully to achieve their own goals, but not working effectively toward the organization’s goals.
If groups don’t see the value others bring to the organization, the ramifications can be widespread — lost opportunities for improvement, resentment regarding resource allocation, insecurities about roles, and undercurrents of dissatisfaction or animosity. If conflict exists between groups, it’s essential to get to the root cause, because whether it’s a fear of loss of control, a lack of empowerment to network across boundaries, or just the desire to keep the status quo, barriers prevent the formation of connections.
So, how do you leverage the best aspects of silos to support mission accomplishment? The real-time information sharing and communications, sustained and effective relationships, and the alignment of efforts toward the mission? First, develop a strong business case for aligning the units and strategies for making improvements. Get all the leaders into one room to work through any assumptions about the lack of need for cross-unit collaboration or any perceived barriers that prevent employees from doing so.
“The most radical thing we can do is connect people to one another. That starts conversations toward a vision for change.”
— Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor at Harvard Business School
Next, the leaders should model the behaviors they want their teams to adopt and provide consistent messaging about shared goals and benefits for making changes. Then, leaders can engage staff in solutioning to move forward collaboratively. For instance, share what each unit does so everyone understands their contribution to mission achievement. Clarify mechanisms and processes that promote information sharing and enable units to work more effectively together. And, determine if system changes could create better workflow across units.
You can pilot solutions, assess the impact, and quickly adjust where needed to achieve the desired results. All along the way, ask for employee feedback on what is working or not working and adjust accordingly. Lastly, reward the behavior change you want to see. If you begin the process correctly and sustain it through smart communications, coaching, training and focused execution, the magic will happen. People will start interacting, collaborating, and working on joint goals—and the cross-silo connections will form.
At Suntiva, we have the behavioral science background necessary to identify and address the root causes of barriers. Our coaching experts work with leaders to help them model the behaviors necessary for working across boundaries. Our organizational design and process expertise help eliminate structural or process issues that contribute to a siloed environment. And, our depth of experience helping government agencies with strategic communications, process improvement, and adoption management means we won’t waste your time or budget — and we won’t try to break down silos when all you need to do is build up the connections.