No business starts by having silos. When a company launches, usually the lines between roles and departments blur as it’s all hands-on deck to find revenue and solve the inevitable fires that come with growing a business. Eventually, as roles become more defined and layers of management are added, silos begin to form. There are three main causes of silos: communication, procedures and trust issues.
You just had a department meeting. You’ve laid out your roadmap and deadlines. That plan relies on getting information or approvals and assigning tasks to another department, who sometimes weren’t even in the room when the plan was set. How can you have a plan that relies on another department without knowing what their roadmap looks like or what demands they have? Also, if there is a representative in the room from that department, do they have the authority to assign and prioritize tasks for their team?
To help avoid silos, clear lines of communication should be established early. At least at the senior management level, there should be a clear understanding of what projects and problems each department is working on, and how each department can support the others in their goals.
Imagine you are walking through a park and there is the path that the architect planned and then there is the worn-out grass that represents the most efficient way through the park. This is a good metaphor for poor rules and procedures. The procedures that have been created are not necessarily the most efficient, this can limit innovation and collaboration between departments.
They are designed on an ideal scenario, or perhaps were designed when the company was smaller. Sometimes procedures are made by Operations or HR departments without consulting other departments involved. Or they were made before new technologies were adopted and do not reflect current workflows.
Procedures should be living documents and best practices, not hard and fast rules that once created are never to be deviated from. Employees from all levels should be involved so that procedures reflect real use cases and not that metaphorical path designed more for aesthetics than everyday practical use.
Personality conflicts cost business and create a lack of trust between employees and management from different departments. People begin to not want to see others succeed and have a fixed I win if you lose mentality. This leads to Information hoarding, loss of productivity, or even purposefully dragging out assignments to throw off deadlines.
Once trust is lost, it can be hard to rebuild but it is not impossible. We are emotional beings. As much as you try to remove emotion and bias from the equation in business, it can never be completely removed. To resolve personal conflicts, start from a place of empathy – assume that everyone is trying their best, and there may be issues that you do not know or see that affect their performance or behavior. Then, there is need to have those difficult adult conversations about how each other’s behaviour has influenced their performance. When relationships are very strained having HR or a trusted advisor act as a mediator can keep the conversation productive. In the end, to resolve and move past personality conflicts, it requires both parties to have the emotional intelligence. Therefore, employers are now putting more emphasis on hiring people with high EQ. Employees with a high EQ handle conflict better and build better relationships which increase productivity.
Where to go from here
By the time management realizes it has a silo problem, it can be difficult to tear them down. Recognizing the root of the problem is key so that you are asking the right questions and putting together an effective plan that addresses the real issue. With patience, strong leadership, and a clear action plan, any business can be more collaborative, cooperative, and innovative.