Silos – If We All Don’’t Get There, No One Gets There!

silo-silos-leadership-management-Todd-NielsenSilos are Ugly! Some time ago I worked with an organization that offered telecommunication services (60% of revenue) as well as IT services (40% of revenue). The two service types were very complimentary to each other, and each had the potential to boost and feed revenues and profits on both sides of the company. Unfortunately, there was a big frustrating and annoying problem that caused contention, fighting of resources, hurt feelings, and lack of innovation. That problem was a big wall, which in the business world, we call… silos!

Silos can exist between individuals, teams, departments, offices, and divisions. It is frustrating to see the jockeying of power, political games, finger pointing, and contention set in and begin to rot the company from the inside out. I remember talking to an employee at this company and he told me that whenever his boss asks him to do something, he just shakes his head say’s “OK,” and then goes and does what he thinks should be done instead. Even within the teams there were silos of individuals.

There was another team that was in charge of projects. That team and the others were constantly at war with each other over resources. During projects that involved telecommunication and IT, the two sides often fought on architecture and other tangible resources that caused projects to go consistently sideways . They fought over marketing dollars, and other resources. Then after it was all said and done, poor customer satisfaction caused the pointing of fingers at each of the teams and then at the sales department for supposedly selling the project too low. It was a sad state of affairs. 

The idea of, “If We All Don’’t Get There, No One Gets There,” is meant to encapsulate the idea that a company is made of its parts, all the way down to the individuals, and the entities in the organization that the individuals belong to. One department or team, rarely can be successful on its own. They require tangible (People, reports, etc.) and intangible (Time, collaboration, etc.) resources from other areas of the company.

Destroying Silos

For these reasons, silo destroying should be a super power that all leaders strive to master. To overcome this problem at this company I walked the entire organization through a workshop and series of steps as defined below. These are not end-all steps and depend in some respects on the maturity of the organization and depth of the problem:

  1. Define The Core Purpose – I know this looks and sounds like a mission statement, and it could be, depending on the situation, although it can take more than one form. The idea was that people need to unite under ONE core purpose. Most mission statements are long and boring and full of mind numbing language. A good one is short and inspiring. The same is true for a mission statement, manifesto, or whatever else you call your core purpose. Once we defined this core purpose, people began to see that their “world,” in their team or department, was actually pretty small compared to the encompassing purpose of the entire organization.
  2. Define The  Core Objective – Now that you know why you exist, what your core purpose is as an organization – people need to know where they are going. It’s important to have a unifying point that everyone is striving to achieve. Not three points, one point. This also needs to inspire people so that they realize that they will never live to see that day of achievement unless their activities promote collaboration from other areas in the company. They can’t get there on their own.
  3. Align Behaviors and Goals – This is usually a very complicated process, one in which I have met few that are skilled in. We setup short-term objectives and goals and aligned the behaviors and actions of everyone in the company with that core objective. I am simplifying this somewhat, but it brought down the inspiring purpose and objective down to each person’s everyday level and helped them see that their work effects the whole organization.
  4. Track Like Crazy – Goals and behavior have to be managed through. We tracked everything that we were trying to achieve, and were quick about making course corrections when we got off the course towards our core objective.
  5. Communicate Until It Is Annoying – Uncertainty was prevalent and to prevent a mass exodus and decline in morale, we met often, and communicated often. People just want to know what is going on and want to feel some security.
  6. Create a Culture of Learning – This seems a little off topic from the others. The idea is that now that you have people’s behavior aligned with the core objective, now is the time to feed them with knowledge that will help unite them, and foster innovation. When everyone is learning it changes and catapults the idea generation in a company. This was done through reading of books, training sessions, employee taught training, and other methods. Little spurs innovation like a bunch of people learning new things that make them more knowledgeable and able to perform their jobs.

Silos can be stressful, but by adapting the philosophy of, “If We All Don’’t Get There, No One Gets There!” and implementing these 6 steps, a leader can push through this and get the organization in sync with each other. Of course there is a lot of messy work along the way, but together you will be able to get through it much more easily.

Please share your thoughts on destroying silos in the comments section.

About Todd Nielsen

Todd Nielsen helps organizations create miracles of success and profitability through the power of execution. Having served as Vice-President, President, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Executive Officer of organizations, he has learned how to create a culture that "Gets Things Done." He is passionate about leadership, and is a dynamic and inspirational speaker.