No doors in your organizational silo? How to get in (and out) by Tom Zender

by Tom Zender

Silo. That part of an organization which is cut off, isolated, not a collaborator, and refrains from teamwork. More interested in self-preservation than the welfare of the company. Does not allow information to flow into nor out of the organization easily. Frozen.

It is a leadership issue – both the leader of the silo and the leader of the broader organization. Silos taint the remainder of the organization, slow down progress, play political games, and waste resources.

“At Cisco, we’re training leaders to think across silos.” – John T. Chambers, former Executive Chairman and CEO, Cisco Systems, Inc. 

How damaging can a silo be?

In 2014, General Motors recalled some 20 million vehicles. Among other reasons, failed ignition switches were blamed for 51 deaths and many injuries.

An internal audit by a former federal prosecutor pinned the cause on “information silos” – the failure of employees to communicate across departments. Or among themselves.

The cost? $4.1 billion for over 4,000 death and injury claims – and repairs to the millions of cars. A brutal failure of organizations and individuals living in their silos. Oh, and leadership failure.

Knock, knock

What is going on inside a silo? Here is a look:

Group dogma – the group begins to think as one; leaders are not questioned; outside ideas are rejected; the group is always right; blind spots form; politics take over; creativity dies.

Blurry vision – the direction of the company is ignored; members of the silo know best; the overall organization’s mission is subservient to the unstated mission of the silo; chaos reigns.

Duplicate actions – poor communications within a silo can result in a project being done twice by the same organization; wasted resources; other projects suffer; costs go up.

Scrambled priorities – the members of a silo lose sight of priorities; worse, there are no priorities; miscommunicated and misunderstood priorities; the overall priorities of the company are ignored; everything is late.

Online amplifier – the Internet can make it worse; online silos develop; an email clique forms; others are cut out; communications take place only with the silo; problems expand and faster; silos build inside silos; productivity takes a hit.

Collaboration is essential in business, more than ever. Within a company and its organizations. And outside the company. Silos suffocate teamwork. Stop it.

Sweeping out the silo

Once a damaging silo has been uncovered, begin at the top of it – the leader(s). Educate them on the damage that siloed information can cause. Show them the advantages of appropriate, free-flowing information. And train employees how to rightly share information – and to accept input from others outside their organization.

Re-address the company’s vision, mission, and values. Demonstrate how taking down the silos supports them. Build an organizational culture that fosters information sharing, teamwork, and collaboration.

Establish broad, common, shared goals for the organization. Align priorities accordingly. If necessary, remove silo-builders from the organization. Better to motivate, incent, and reward those who exemplify a healthy sharing of information, resources, and ideas.

The bottom lines

Stop silos. These self-contained, isolated, groups within a company or organization cause great damage. Their hallmark is to control information flow into and out of their own domain. Weak teamwork, no collaboration, and wasted resources. Take steps to break down silos with education and incentives. Revitalize your vision. And the business.