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Breaking Organizational Silos (Part II)

In “Breaking Organizational Silos (Part I)“, silos were defined as also suggestions were provided as to how we might break the silos which may emerge in an active manner as well as in a passive manner. In this article, we would look at more such ideas which may be implemented to break the silo mentality – an impediment to exploiting the synergy that should emerge within and between departments of an organization.


The Caveat First!

All the suggestions may not be implementable. Some might be a fit to X organization’s culture while some might solve the puzzle in Y. 5 suggestions were provided in the previous article so we would start here from:

Suggestion 6: Short Term Project Teams

Constant improvement has become the norm. But employees may get lethargic working in the same environment, same department. They might be great at providing solutions to problems pertaining to their department but what about problems that entail the entire organization?

To solve such problems, project teams can be organized for a limited period of time (3 months to 1 year) where the teams would be responsible for solving one recurring organizational problem. I like to call these HIST – High Impact, Short Term – Projects. These projects would not only enrich the jobs of the employees concerned, but would also benefit the organization as it would also save on some consultancy fees.

This would also help identify and nurture the leaders of morrow as they would learn about the other departments and network with them.

Suggestion 7: Osmosis Weeks

On a bigger and more general scale, Osmosis weeks can be organized where employee from B department would work for a week in C department while that of C would work in the D department. This would help them appreciate the jobs of their counterparts while also developing “Systems Thinking”.

“Systems thinking is a management discipline that concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the components that comprise the entirety of that defined system.”


Again, if you want to develop well-rounded leaders, you might like to try this approach!

Suggestion 8: Brain-Shoeing Sessions

Conduct brainstorming sessions among the Finance department professionals, and ask them how differently would they have operated if they were in the HR department. Likewise, let HR people brainstorm on system or process improvements concerning the Finance department or maybe even the Production department.

These sessions would give you valuable insight about how your organization is actually operating. It can help you take preventive actions and actually thaw the chill!

Suggestion 9: Build exceptional generalists

In this world where expertise charges a premium, it might sound counter-intuitive but it is a sane strategy to train and build total leaders – the generalists. They can act as the glue that holds the ship, switching between departments as and when requirement comes up.

Suggestion 10: Take a world view

While all the 9 suggestions suggested previously may be put in good use, it is important that organizations around the world start taking a world view. And by organizations I refer to the present leadership. Focusing on profits isn’t enough any more. Focusing just on shareholder value may hurt your organization in the long run. Customers are important, no doubt but so are your contractors and so is the community within which your plant operates.

None of the suggestions would work if today’s leaders do not take a world view. None of them.

To Summarize!

Much can be done to break the silo mentality but commitment from the top must be evident for the steps to be effective. “Systems Thinking” must be encouraged so that we have well-rounded leaders and not just power-brokers.

Picture Credit: keenlearner.wordpress.com

Author: Amartya Dey, India


Breaking Organizational Silos (Part I)

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.


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