Breaking Down Organizational Silos
When business units operate independently from one another, they avoid sharing information and engaging cooperatively. Over time, the silos created by this independence builds a wall between divisions, leaders and best practices. Of the many dysfunctions suffered by organizations, perhaps none is more common or corrosive than silos.
In a highly siloed organization, leaders don’t talk to one another. They simply don’t believe they have any reason to. Even though they know the business or enterprise as a whole requires everyone to do their part to succeed, they prefer to focus exclusively on their area and leave others to theirs.
Asking leaders who operate siloed divisions to serve on the enterprise leadership team is often met with blank stares. Getting updates on matters that don’t affect them seems like a bad use of time. Unfortunately, they are usually right. Among many other issues, innovation suffers.
For a business or enterprise to operate at the highest level, the walls created by silos have to be shattered. Even though there is often in-grained reluctance to address silos due to a long-standing tradition of independence between business units and leaders, defeating the negative impact of silos is relatively straight forward.
Two strategies have proven reliably to shift from independence to interdependence between leaders and business units.
The most pivotal strategy is to ask leaders to hold hands regarding results. Breaking down silos depends on defining shared accountability. When leaders are jointly responsible for outcomes and own results together, they quickly learn to drop the pretenses and begin to collaborate. Even less critical outcomes serve to splinter the silo when leaders are accountable to the end state together.
To further erode the strength of a silo, creating cross functional teams and initiatives helps those below to begin sharing information and resources. In order for this strategy to have a lasting impact, the projects must be significant and the leaders involved should be highly credible within their segment of the organization.
When others see opinion leaders working on cross-functional initiatives, they no longer see a need to withhold information or act independently themselves.
Aligning the strategic focus of business leaders to overcome silos is not as hard as many organizations like to believe. The first step is to throw tradition aside and ask leaders to own (some) results together. When siloed leaders suggest that creating joint accountability makes no sense, don’t believe them. They simply need a push and a spark of creative insight to see things anew.