5 Ways to Break Your Silos

One of the most common complaints I hear from my clients is that their organization operates in “silos”. Some of the most common ways this can play out in an organization include:

  • Lack of understanding upstream/ downstream effects (especially to customers)
  • Broken cross-functional processes, which can lead to inefficiencies or poor business outcomes
  • Employee mindset of focus on “us” with blinders to other groups

A recent McKinsey & Company study summarizes the dangers of operating in silos, creating “tunnel vision, tribalism, and weak corporate performance”. If you recognize that your company has too many silos and there’s a lot of siloed thinking going on, here are 5 ideas to address it:

  1. Assess your structure to determine if it’s enabling the problem. Look holistically at your organizational structure, team structure, jobs/ role descriptions, and processes. This same McKinsey study recommends setting performance goals that an individual function cannot achieve alone, making cross-functional teams accountable for outcomes. It also emphasizes changing processes to promote speed, agility, and efficiency, and emphasizing collaboration and execution along the way.
  2. Reward the right behaviors. How are people measured and rewarded? Is there a link between the way you assess performance & reward the “right” behaviors that can help you bust existing silos? Since people perform based on how they’re rewarded, make sure you’re providing incentives for the right things and discouraging those silo-building behaviors. For example, hyper-focus on measuring operational excellence without accounting for customer outcomes & feedback may only continue to encourage siloed thinking.
  3. Use a “holocracy” approach and form cross-functional teams to solve problems. In her book, Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future”, my colleague Alexandra Levit explains that a holocracy is a “new management structure that empowers employees to make meaningful decisions and drive change”. In this kind of structure, authority is typically distributed and hierarchy is fluid; everyone is bound by the same rules and the shared goal is to achieve a specific business outcome. One example of a holocracy was with a recent client who was trying to gain big efficiencies in a process that was really broken. They gathered a group of cross-functional experts who all had input or dependencies on the process, defined a shared goal and gave them full autonomy to solve the problem. While this was a point-in-time example for this client, it was a small way to get to a great business outcome without making significant or time-consuming changes.
  4. Encourage & promote diversity in mindset/ thinking. The benefits of having a diverse workforce are significant, but using a diverse group of individuals with different skill sets, experiences and backgrounds can often lead to breakthrough solutions. Using techniques such as Design Thinking, which relies on a diversity of thought, will help you identify and implement on the very best, most innovative solutions.
  5. Create opportunities for education, broader awareness & engagement across groups. The same client mentioned above identified ongoing ways to highlight different areas of the organization each month – in town halls, newsletters that featured a “spotlight” on a specific department and public recognition & reward for individuals going above & beyond. These simple ideas helped create a culture of thinking outside of “us” and helped connect people in teams with one another.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at sbrowning@people-results.com or on Twitter @sbPResults.