Breaking Down Silos

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Many people have a natural instinct to keep to themselves. In business nomenclature, it might be referred to as “siloing,” which results in the containment of information, ideas and innovation. Within a company, that becomes a serious risk to growth and success, sometimes even survival. 

The sharing of vision, values, solutions and external feedback throughout your organization is not just the right thing to do, it’s an absolute necessity in virtually any business environment regardless of industry.

In her recent book, The Silo Effect, author and Financial Times Editor Gillian Tett offers a number of case studies showing how siloing nearly destroyed some of the world’s largest companies and was one of the root causes of the 2008 worldwide financial crisis. She details how successful companies that have a culture of communication across departments and disciplines have dominated their competition.

Why does siloing occur? Often sharing and openness brings with it the fear of criticism from management or co-workers, creating a workplace that lacks the necessary comfort level—regardless of whether these risks are real or imagined.

Siloing is insidious, not obvious, until you pay the price for it.

Here is the point. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. If you don’t have management and staff connecting, listening across channels and disciplines, vertically and horizontally, you are cheating yourselves out of valuable internal and competitive insights, innovation and alerts to trouble signs that might exist and need to be addressed.

Siloing is not just a descriptor; it’s a fact and a major roadblock in most companies. Don’t confuse it with focus, as you can have different groups focusing on different products or projects, but you cannot have groups operating in their own silos, not exchanging information and bringing value to other parts of the company.

Early in my career, I experienced classic siloing at radio stations, with programmers protecting their artistic treasures from the mortal risk of ruination by salespeople. Programmers and on-air personalities wanted nothing to do with the sales department because, in their minds, anything stopping the music would be stopping the listening.

When I ran my first radio sales department, I had programmers and DJs attend our sales meetings. It was unheard of then, and they hated it at first, but then they realized the true value of connecting. I attended the programming meetings to better understand how and why people listened to us. The objective was to bring together the two most critical elements of the product. Programmers needed to understand and embrace the importance of selling the value, personality and needs of the listening audience to advertisers. And sales had to develop campaigns that leveraged the creative strength of programming. These two disciplines had to connect in order for the station to better connect advertisers with the audience.

We had the highest ratings in the market and commanded the best rates. Our listeners had a passion for the product and supported the advertisers who made it possible for them to enjoy it.  

Some suggestions to break down silos:

·         Have members of different departments spend a day or more with other departments to learn how to work better together.

·         Have frequent face-to-face conversations about problems, solutions and improvements. Ask for input and share it.

·         Recognize people willing to cross invisible boundaries and encourage positive behaviors.

Silos are not easy to see at first, but you will notice the positive difference when you bring them down and you will see it in your company culture.   

Seek out input from everyone in your company, regardless of discipline and location.

When you break down silos, everyone in your company feels like they are contributing to something bigger than their daily responsibilities, and that they matter.

Connect...don’t silo. Do that and you win.

 

Dick Kalt
Executive Vice President