Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why does Silo Happen and How to Bridge It

Silos build the wall in people’s minds and tie the knots in their hearts.

There are different definitions of the silo, by its nature, it’s about isolation. The segmenting or sectioning of work by skill, knowledge, type, etc, is a necessary component of complex work or large workplaces. But silo mentality is fundamentally about keeping the mind static and keeping the people separate rather than keeping work separate.

Silos happen when the "Why?" in business is not properly communicated from the senior level management down through business units: The "why" must be answered throughout the business chain, otherwise, the employee does not have the correct purpose. Specifics must be addressed and consistent execution and accountability. Steven Covey professes, "Begin with the end in mind." Silos are a product of organizational insecurity and internal competition for resources. This is a cultural problem resulting from poor leadership. Open communication and sharing increase the ability to fulfill your mission, satisfy your customer or client base, and improve employee productivity. In business circumstances, say, you have groups of people who will execute whatever comes down the pipeline, and those that have problems with tasks will ask questions. How these questions are handled, more than anything else will tell you the health of the organization, and the silos you can expect to find.

Silos are based on a culture of self-protection and judgment: Many think silo happens when the business operates from a fear standpoint - fear of rejection, fear of invisibility, fear that other peoples' accomplishments will somehow diminish your own, etc. It reduces a sense of belonging and connection to your organization's larger mission. It's very human, as we do this outside the workplace as well. We organize ourselves into groups and then pit them against each other. Silos might make you feel insulated and “powerful,” but they form a very insecure base for the ego which is why it never really feels good to work in an environment like that. Changing this culture requires an admission that you can do better all around, but this often causes many people to feel deeply anxious about doing so. And it's hard to give up the illusion of power it gives you. It takes a tremendous amount of self-reflection and active leadership to create a more positive culture.  

It comes to the specialists versus generalists debate: At the industrial age, businesses value specialization so much that they don't set up systems to consistently facilitate specialists meeting cross-discipline with other specialists. For quite some time, due to the process-driven, functional oriented “silo” nature of an industrial organization, businesses have been fostering a belief that 'people should 'specialize' or become an expert on one thing to a level in which they can be the 'best of the best.' The society encourages such thinking at the young age, it’s also been encouraged in businesses. Therefore, they end up cobbling together a business organization of disparate, but hopefully aligned toward some vision and objective; add in that, businesses tend to promote off 'measurable output,' they manage down like a specialist and collaborate with other manager peers as a specialist meeting with other specialists. Organizations hope they actually have a generalist who rises up who can interface effectively with all the specialists, but most organizations elevate a specialist, and that is what they feel most comfortable with. Silos self-perpetuate because that is the business culture we consciously encourage individuals to pursue. Because the world is increasingly complex and fast-changing the need for specialization is likely to increase. However, greater specialization does not need to lead to silo working - there are other organizational options such as cross-functional collaboration because today’s business is also hyper-connected and always on.

Great organizations are supposed to maximize the individual and the group's potential: A silo is supposed to have a specific strategic goal, and that is actually okay. Someone above the silo is supposed to piece all the individual puzzle pieces together. Sometimes we need to go back to basics in these situations. Silos have individual goals, but strategic goals need to be shared and common to ensure the whole is optimal than the sum of pieces. Realign and refresh the purpose and maintain the correct direction of the team's basic leadership, because sometimes change management principles so easily get lost in day to day operational responsibilities. A silo is supposed to focus on what they do and keep their eye on that ball. Good leader shares just enough 'outside the silo' to keep them involved and invested in the greater purpose or vision, but not too much that it slows them down on what they really focus on doing to maximize the silo tasks and objectives. Some management gurus call this managed autonomy. All the members are working towards common goals and objectives, with a passionate desire to see the organization succeed. Any misfits will not succeed long for lack of collaborating partners

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