What’s invisible but destructive and can arise between departments in an organisation?
Silos, that’s what.
Silos are also communication killers. In the 2017 State of Workplace Communications Report by Dynamic Signal they found that 37% cited siloed employees and departments functioning as individual entities as their top company communications challenge.
On a farm, silos are designed to keep grains separate. In the workplace, silos keep departments separate where they should be interacting and have their metaphorical grains mixing. They can come about because each department has their own unique goals. It’s not unusual in a company to have competing objectives even though everyone is part of the same organisation. These competing objectives add tension and are the catalyst for silos to exist and grow. What can result is poor or no communication between teams, withholding information, failure to collaborate, working at cross purposes, and internal competition over resources.
Different goals can lead to an "us versus them" mindset among managers. Contrast that to when managers from different functions routinely share information, they learn more about one another's goals and enhance their view of the customer.
In The Designful Company book, the author writes “In a traditional company, workers are siloed, while in a designful company they collaborate. This creates a feeling of shared success.” The concept of shared success is what separates companies with silos versus companies that work to bust them. If you take the approach ‘we’re all in this together’ you’re more likely to foster collaboration and innovation and be more of a designful company. Being in it together is important if you want your workforce to observe and live the company values. It comes back to the culture you want to cultivate. One that binds people together (absent of silos) or one that keeps them at war (which is reinforced by silos).
Promote cross company interactions to counter a silo mentality
Some tips to prevent silos from occurring:
· Understand that good ideas are the ones that are shared. Don’t be guilty of only communicating down. Take ideas from the bottom up and across departments. When you give your people freedom to share their ideas and opinions you’ll enhance collaboration and foster appreciation for one’s effort.
· Don’t worry where the idea came from, be the one who can get it done. A designful company recognises that good ideas can come from anywhere and it’s best to be open to them.
· Healthy competition can still be had within your team and business when you work together. Your goals should all align to the business plan and brand. Create internal challenges to bring the best out in each other.
· Appreciate your colleague’s differences and work together because of them. Creative tension can produce wonderful results; just think of the partnerships like Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Jobs and Wozniak, Ernie and Bert.
· From a brand perspective, your internal communication team has to work with all customer facing departments and with the leadership team to champion the brand internally. Brands are not built internally on their own. Recognise that brand building is a team sport.
· Content doesn’t have to come only from the marketing or communications team. Instead they need to source content from across the business and be responsible for using it. Collaboration is essential to enhance the messages your company has to share.
· Brand messages and thinking need to happen across the business and can only occur with the support of the customer facing departments. Marry the view from the outside to the view from the inside and make sure your brand is aligned.
· Access the market intelligence from your front line professionals. They interact with the customer constantly and have a real understanding of their needs - access this knowledge and use it to improve your service or product.
· Work with HR to ensure the brand messages are injected in the recruitment material. HR is responsible for bringing in the right people so you need to make sure the brand ideology is shared during recruitment and induction.
· Work closely with your operations counterparts, those in the service delivery areas – they manage the delivery of customer experience. They have multiple opportunities to win customers over or lose them and a poor customer experience can unravel all your good work.
Silos thrive in poor communication environments
To bust a silo, you have to attack the source of its power. That power is a lack of communication. Communication is the key activity that challenges silos in your business. Internally communication can’t simply be left to the communications team. Everyone has responsibility for it. What’s the point of the communications team demonstrating great communication if the leadership team are themselves at odds and not willing to communicate? If the leadership team aren’t on board, the whole company will be drawn into teams based on their desire to maintain fortresses. Like most things organisational, it has to start at the top if you want results quickly. No amount of internal communication activity is going to override fundamental issues that exist in the leadership team, in operational processes that are at cross purposes or in mixed messages that people are committed to spreading.
However, that’s not to say the internal communications team can’t make a start to improve company culture. They can communicate the purpose of the business, its values, can highlight and recognise people that are making a positive contribution, create opportunities for people to get together and ultimately they can operate without a silo mentality themselves. They can create communication channels to share and invite feedback and encourage more communication between departments and do their bit to champion the leadership team to remain committed to great communication within the company.
When communication is present there’s less chance silos have the air they need to survive.