How do you break down silos?

Saturday I came across this question on LinkedIn…how do you break down silos?

Breaking Down SilosSilos exist in nearly every organization.  Organizations’ that suffer from silos are affected by what I refer to as Organizational Myopia.  My book on this is due out in a couple months that addresses this topic.

Silos are created by human nature.  Entrepreneurs start their small business with a great idea.  They are really good at delivering a service or building a product.  If the customers like the product or service, business tends to grow fast.  Specialty departments form because the founder’s skill is in developing the product.  Needs like HR, Finance, and IT crop up and specific people are hired to do this.  They often need to stand up a team or department.  Then the delivery side of the house gets too busy for everything to happen with one person and it fractures into things like Operations, Sales, Marketing, and Logistics.  These departments tend to start to segment around customer bases and then fracture further into teams.  These teams promote competition across the product for sales and delivery.

When the company started, it was small and manageable.  Everyone was focused on the same things.  The company grows and it starts to form these “groups of humans” in what we call “silos.”  So, the silos ALWAYS exist in successful companies.  The bigger the company is, the more prevalent the silos.  Mergers and acquisitions tend to create more silos then remove them.

Then here comes human nature.  Everyone wants to “belong.”  It’s a Maslow basic need.  They identify with their group at work as part of that effort; belonging means that you are part of one team and not part of others.  Thus, you get a strong feeling of team affinity.  This builds walls and starts to create an “us and them” mentality.  People start to think “we’re better than they are,” “they get better stuff,” “we have more work,” and “we need more money or people than they do.”  The walls solidify with brick and mortar and now your silos are firm and resolute.

Problems with this are a lack of communication across silos, people tend to throw “stuff” over the wall to the next step in processes without regard, constant empire building and resource wars, and everyone develops their own view of what customer is important.  This is Organizational Myopia.

The thing is, just disrupting the silos (breaking them down) WILL NOT solve your problem.  Tear them down with leadership and personnel changes, mergers, and acquisitions–the normal management response to the problem–doesn’t work.  You spend months, if not years, dealing with the change management issues associated, or worse, the ramifications because you didn’t deal with the change management in the first place.  Needless, employees flail around being unproductive for a while and then guess what?  Human nature takes hold again and they form right back into their belonging groups and they rebuild their silo walls and make them even more solid to prevent the same breakdown again.

The trick is to learn to work in a silo environment, not break down the silos.  Knowing how to Overcome Organizational Myopia is the purpose of my book.  It’s about breakthrough, not break down.


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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