‘You are confined only by the walls you build yourself’ Anon
Ask any business leader today what their biggest barrier is to driving innovation, delivering growth or increasing efficiency and they will very quickly tell you it is ‘silos’. Invariably their answer is quickly followed by stories of immense frustration, team hostilities and painful recounts of missed opportunities, damaged relationships and a very real impact to bottom lines.
Like grain silos, business silos house precious resources that are separated according to type and are difficult to gain access to. Whilst this might work well in housing and protecting grain from nature’s elements it’s not so beneficial when it comes to driving growth, business innovation, efficiency or collaboration. Unfortunately though too many businesses are losing market share because of their siloed way of working and the employee mindsets that are permeating workplace cultures.
The silo mentality is commonly defined as ‘a mindset present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company’. Often it is evidenced through a ‘them and us’ attitude; an ‘it’s not part of my job’ approach; or situations that see individuals and teams hamstrung and unable to progress because you either have to wait and chase information from others. Not only does it slow outcomes but it damages careers and opportunities. Typically the bigger the organisation the more damaging and impeding the silos can be. With the very nature of work rapidly changing and continuously pivoting, business leaders can’t afford to not examine how silos may be limiting both the success of the business and their own impact as a leader.
Patrick Lencioni, author of Silos, Politics and Turf Wars describes how ‘silos – and the turf wars they enable devastate organsiations: They waste resources, kill productivity, push good people out the door and jeopardise the achievement of goals’. To overcome them he highlights the need for strong unified leadership that is prepared to look past the behaviours that result from silos and focus on the contextual issues that are often at the heart of the organisation. Whilst it can be very easy to assume that the inefficiencies and lack of collaboration in a team or organisation are a result of employees not knowing how to play nicely together, often the behaviours result from a sense of powerlessness to actually do anything about the problems they have identified. Leadership teams who recognise this and seek to create solutions that remove roadblocks, facilitate new ways of working and empower employees will create long-term solutions that are easy to execute and scalable.
The key to silo busting is mobility: getting people and information moving. The reality is if we put the same people, in the same place, doing the same ‘stuff’ for too long, silos form. Creating environments that support this movement and equipping individuals with the skills to manage and navigate it is critical to keeping this flow moving. Without it we simply build up dam like barriers that stop the flow and trap both people and information and all too often see projects and strategies stall.
3 Leadership Tips to Overcoming The Silo Mentality:
- Unify: Silo mentalities are rarely created from the ground up. Leadership teams who are unified in their vision, committed to their strategy and consistent in their communication create high trust environments that empower and enable others. They help break down the barriers that get in the way of success and movement and lay the foundations for high performing cultures.
- Focus: When leaders and their teams are clear on the vision they are able to focus with crystal clarity on the goals at hand. It is easier for employees to identify the role they play, take ownership for their outcomes and identify any roadblocks or enablers to their success. They support the flow of people, resources and information and welcome the fresh ideas and perspectives generated. When individuals understand the impact that they have and the interconnected nature of their teams, aligning and focusing on the overarching goals is more obtainable.
- Recognise: In order to successfully deliver on a company vision and strategy, leaders need to understand and recognise what motivates, inspires and incentivises individual employees. They also need to detect where the silos are forming and work with individuals to move and act with confidence. When they do, employees are more likely to stop ‘protecting their patch’ and engage more collaboratively and productively.
The ultimate pay off to overcoming the silo mentality and the use of mobility as a tool to do that are the novel insights, ingenuity and innovative thinking that you get from open minds.