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Most large organisations will often hear from their team “we could be great, but we work in silos too much”. The much over-used “S” word has real potential to do damage, to slow progress and create a level of angst in an organisation.

 

If you were to research the concept of silos, you will see there are literally thousands of articles and even the odd book on how to break down the silos and work together (this Forbes article is one such example). You might find a definition such as:

silo mentality is a mind-set present when certain departments or [individuals] do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture”.

It is also helpful to think of silos existing in degrees along a continuum, i.e. silo existence isn’t a binary, black and white matter. Most organisations will have some silo characteristics at any given time. But silos become problematic when it impacts performance.

This definition is typical of many, as is the desire to blame individuals, the leaders, structures and departments. It is a mentality that is common, pervasive and in many instances a natural occurrence, as is the damage that could result. Never-the-less, it is surely just a mentality, and that means it can be changed.

The most intuitive and common approach to solving silos is to improve company communication which might include regular newsletters, staff feedback sessions and activities which encourage departments to work together. There is also a focus on leadership development of leaders to prevent silos as well as a focus on recruitment on avoiding the type of person who does. So why then, does the problem seemingly still exist? Why does this silo mentality drag companies down so much? And by the way, we are adults, we should know how to work together!

I think silos are partially caused by a lack of strategic alignment and related to this, a lack of aligned purpose and incentives.

Most organisations will have a great vision and a purpose, and in most instances I am sure it connects to the employees and the community it operates in.  But does it connect to the priorities of an organisation, is everyone “jumping in the same direction”? Often I suspect that while the level of understanding of vision and purpose may be really high, translating it into actions and focus for an organisation could be more difficult, especially as it is open to translation and interpretation.

One reason this does not occur, is the incentive and reward system and individual KPI’s do not completely align with the an organisations vision, purpose and strategy. Think for a minute, when your organisation last made a change to its operating fundamentals (such as its strategy), did it change its incentives, rewards and individual KPIs. In my view, if you change your company strategy, you really should change your incentive system.

It is entirely possible an organisation has a top five strategic priorities, which is then defined by every department in their own way, and they translate this into KPIs for individuals and rewarded accordingly. It is entirely possible for a sales team, who are rewarded on achieving individual sales targets, to completely ignore company priorities.

So the incentive system has shaped behaviour, and even created a system where it is actually perfectly natural, to work in silos. So the next time you hear a complaint about silos, think about purpose and incentives in the first instance, and not introducing a staff newsletter.

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