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Breaking Organizational Silos (Part I)

Contents

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The Fundamental Truths 

To start with, the top leadership of any company has to accept two fundamental truths:

  1. Silos exist.
  2. Silos affect collective learning, growth and performance adversely.

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What are silos?

Silos are formed by people like us. Silos are formed by people having a common denominator. The worst common denominators that an organization might have to deal with include race, gender and geography affiliation, the ones which can be tackled more easily are departments or even groups within a department.

Why are silos formed in the same place?

We form bonds, create defined turfs and love to engage in power games. While forming bonds is necessary to perform and excel, turf creation and power games can hurt both the morale of the players involved and the bottom line of the company.

We must also understand that while silos can be formed actively, silos can also take shape themselves. These passive silos can take shape because of poor organizational structure or prevalent work culture. These may also take place of poor reward systems or something as basic as design of the workplace.

But as it happens with most causes, all of them are related in one way or the other. Let us start with the workplace design cause. (The effect being silo mentality!)

Workplace Design & Silos

If you have been to Government organizations, you would see one single department occupying an entire building. Say, that is the Finance department and you work for that department. Now because of some work, you need to visit the Contracts Department which is a 10 minutes walk. Maybe you are in the same building but you are in a different floor.

This space between the departments and the lead time required to get in touch with someone from some other department would determine the silo index measure of the organization you are working in. The greater the space and more the lead time required, higher is the silo index.

One would argue that this is a necessary evil – the space and the lead time. But that would be a lie. It is not necessary and can be tackled easily.

Suggestion 1: Group employees not department-wise but activity-wise. 

Why do we need to design the organization structure department-wise? Why cannot we design it activity-wise? Why cannot we have a bit of both?

Suggestion 2: Cut out the fat.

Many organizations already have the buildings in place. They can change the organization structure and all, but then one building would be put out of use. Stop falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy. Have an extra building? Sell it. Or, demolish it. Your organizational output in the future would more than make up for it.

Suggestion 3: Keep the files at a single place. 

In large organizations, all departments have their own file-space. This increases manpower requirement and there is seldom any standardized method of file-keeping across departments. This makes us inefficient and lethargic.

Suggestion 4: Digitize everything. 

Need to keep hard copy. Great! Keep it in the centralized repository. Just ensure that the human capital responsible for maintaining the files scan and digitize every scrap of paper and upload it in the cloud. (I hate hard disks!) 

This practice has multiple benefits. The top two are: first, it would be easier to group employees activity-wise. Secondly, if there is a fire and every file gets burnt down, you would still have access to the digitized files. (Although the best thing would be to just do away with files and process everything online. This is already being done in many organizations. And it would be done by every organization within the next 30 years.)

Suggestion 5: Rotate people around across teams. 

While research has shown that job-rotation increase the morale of the human capital involved, it would not only help develop leaders who have a fair idea about how the entire business operates, but also deal a death blow to silo mentality. Why build turfs when they would only be destroyed in couple of years?

To summarize!

Silos are present in almost every organization. And it is time that the thought leaders across businesses, geographies and organizations started focusing more on the challenges that silos present so that silos can be weeded out.

Picture Credit: in.pinterest.com

Author: Amartya Dey, India

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