When a silo mentality begins growing in a business, its development can be hard to spot and difficult to remove once it has taken root. This mentality can even seem like a trivial problem when taken in isolation, and yet when managers notice the inefficiency of departments rivaling against one another, failing to communicate and consequently providing duplicate work, the end result can be disastrous – reversing years of positive workforce development effort.
Understanding Silos in Organizations
Every company, and nonprofit organization, has silos. What we’re talking about is specialization. It is not the villain – it is where we draw organization strength – people doing specific jobs with a common goal. What we must guard against is the “Silo Mentality”. Also known as turf wars, they tear businesses apart from the inside out causing a mismanagement of resources, miscommunication and massive inefficiency.
A common theme among articles and scholarly papers discussing the Silo Mentality, is that it almost always starts at the top. When leadership either gives direct approval of or is silent to the behavior of a department exhibiting the trait. This will often signal to the rest of the organization that it is okay or even necessary to protect your group, to put its goals above those of the collective.
Breaking Down the Silo Mentality
How can silos be eradicated or, better yet, sidestepped altogether? According to Forbes (“The Silo Mentality: How To Break Down The Barriers”, October 2, 2013 by Brent Gleeson and Megan Rozo), there are five things a business can do to eliminate:
- Create a Unified Vision.
- Work Toward Achieving a Common Goal.
- Motivate and Incentivize.
- Execute and Measure.
- Collaborate and Create.
Bloomberg (“Smashing Silos”, February 5, 2010, by Evan Rosen) also has a list of five workforce development strategies that will break down silos in your organization:
- Eliminate Needless Formality and Hierarchy.
- Provide One-Click Access to Entire Organization.
- Design Dedicated Physical Spaces for Collaboration.
- Adopt Common Systems and Processes.
- Establish Cross-Functional Mentoring
When reviewing these lists, we found nine unique workforce development strategies that could help eliminate the Silo Mentality. The only shared strategy was collaboration. Of those, we’ll discuss two in more depth within this article:
Work Toward Achieving a Common Goal
Silos are frequently spawned by the fact that, while an organization might have an identifiable corporate culture, the composite departments behave more like a Rube Goldberg machine than a well-timed, collaborative symphony.
It’s critical for management leadership to immediately step in at the first sign of silos and create an overarching goal to unify departments, increase communication and lower the chances that corrosive office politics will impede efficiency. Understandably, different departments will have different tactical ways of going about granular problems requiring niche skills and specialization.
The trick for managers is allowing all of this ingenuity to continue while having the leadership skills to convey a department-unifying corporate mission.
Motivate and Incentivize
The great thing about a nonprofit organization is that many of its employees likely share very similar values and rationales for showing up to work every day. Breaking silos in nonprofits, therefore, is often less about employee motivation per se and more about assuring (with verification) that every department is moving the organization forward.
In the case of for-profit organizations, the challenge can often be choosing the right incentives for each department’s employees. One must provide motivation without straying from the overarching goal of the project. As an example, customer service, marketing and software development teams will each have incentives tied to customer satisfaction, leads and clean software (respectively) while each department is contributing to a common overarching goal.
Silo-based thinking can have a devastating effect on your company and workforce development if not kept in check. That is why it is important to provide an overarching mission for your various teams. This goal paired with the right motivations should help keep the whole company working toward the overall success of the organization.