Silos typically refer to huge cylindrical tanks used in agriculture for the storage of fermented feed, a range of items from grain to other food products, wood chips, coal and cement. Silos can also be used for the main purpose of seasonal storage to keep the products safe from external influences like weather conditions. Applying the interpretation to the workplace, silos refer to a part of an organization or company where there is no communication, interaction or common goals between the different units and the output they produce. In other words, silos represent parallel parts of an organization that do not overlap. In business, organizational silos are a metaphor for divisions or departments that avoid sharing information and basically seal it in, preventing external influences.
Silos have existed long before the pandemic. However, the remote and hybrid workplace models have been seen to alter systems in the workplace. From management styles to organizational structures and everyday activities. With employees working from home more than the common office space, interaction with others is greatly reduced and the sense of isolation increases. This can further promote the stockpiling of information and the silo mentality.
Why Divisionalising the Workplace is Not Good Enough?
Different departments are created in the workplace to divide business activities by functions in order to ensure that operations are carried out in efficient and effective ways. This implies that for an organization to achieve its goals, the various departments need to understand one another’s roles individually and collectively, to support the efforts and collaboration required to achieve specific goals and efficient outputs. Divisionalising the workplace has many benefits, which is why numerous modern job designs have adopted this pattern since the second industrial revolution. However, it is worth noting that the number of people involved and their assigned responsibilities can have an effect on how quickly team members develop the silo mentality that goes on to form organizational silos.
Therefore, recognizing that large teams can have members feeling left out or bored, especially in the case where their contribution requires expertise and is considered minimal when compared to the volume of the output. Where other businesses will likely also deal with poor employee retention rates in addition to organizational silos, a company like Amazon adopted the two-pizza team rule, which ensures that teams are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas. The company is then able to focus on efficiency and scalability, where the team is small enough to ensure that information reaches every member simultaneously, collaboration is easier to manage and silos can be avoided. Thus, allowing the organization to enjoy the benefits of a divisional structure that includes:
• Specialization. With a focus on a product or service, the division is able to develop strategic objectives and obtain the resources required to achieve a high degree of specialization. Also, with dedicated leadership, resources are easily accessible, which eliminates the possibility of distractions by competing interests.
• Self-sufficiency. Divisions are able to operate as individual units, without the need for heavy reliance on top management. With a separate and autonomous management structure, teamwork is key, therefore, operational decisions can be made quickly, and supplies and resources can also be obtained easily, often without the need for external approvals.
• Responsibility. The development of divisions, departments or teams can help in the assignment of responsibilities. With assigned tasks and required outputs identified, team members and team leaders can be held mutually accountable for outcomes, whether positive or negative. This can be beneficial in identifying and isolating the source of time lags or budget leaks in projects, as well as measuring performance to identify where skill upgrades and training are required.
However, even for the smaller-sized teams, because of the specialization, self-sufficiency, and easier of allocating responsibility, employees are also likely to get bored of doing their specialized things without cross-functional interaction. In this case, many culture specialists suggest increasing casual conversations across functionalities & teams to ease burnout.
How can Management Staff Help to Create a More Collaborative Work Environment?
To facilitate the identification of solutions, it is worthy to first recognize the root cause and consider a number of factors that can create these silos and obstruct collaborations between different divisions, departments and teams in the company. Causes of silos in the workplace can stem from:
• Team size. As team sizes continue to evolve over time, complex teams can be seen to have over 20 team members with varying levels of knowledge and expertise. An increase in the number of team members, it can result in a notable decrease in the tendency to collaborate.
• Refusal to adopt new technologies. This can result from a number of reasons but groups can refuse to learn to use new systems because of the comfort of what they are already used to and the fear of complicated new processes that may take time to master.
• Work situation (remote work, on-site or varying locations). Inadequate collaboration could be a result of the lags from long-distance communication between teams in varying locations or time zones.
Other factors can include the length of time in the organization and position, expertise and educational level, age and nationality.
Management can also work towards breaking down silos and creating a more collaborative work environment through the following means:
• Provide executive support. As above, so below. The collaborative efforts of a team can be reflective of the management of the organization. Therefore, management, company leaders and other stakeholders can display collaborative methods themselves and invest in collaborative tools and the development of informal social relationships among other members of teams and cross-functional departments. In order to increase communication amongst teams, create room for the exchange and development of ideas, and build a sense of community and camaraderie among employees.
• Invest in relevant initiatives and training. Committed investment in the development of employees goes a long way in affecting team relationships. Training can involve topics aimed at the development of soft skills including; productive and creative conflict resolution tactics, program and project management, and purposeful and effective communication.
What are the Benefits of Breaking Down Business Silos?
Silos can form as a result of the creation of departments or functional groups which often consist of people with similar skill sets or expertise. This can quickly become problematic when the poor flow of information leads to inefficiencies that affect the productivity and growth of the organization. Therefore, breaking down these silos and silo mindsets should be the top priority for the purpose of restoring effective exchange, free flow of information and contribution between teams, while the organization reclaims a sense of normalcy in the form of:
• Improvements in cross-functional collaboration and innovation.
• Increase in employee productivity.
• Prevention of duplication of efforts by the departments or teams.
• Increase productivity and ROI for the organization.
Ways to Increase Collaboration in the Workplace with LEAD.bot
In order for management to succeed at creating a collaborative work environment, conditions are expected to be considerate, thoughtful, and where necessary, significant time and financial investments are required to further support the capacity for collaboration. This is where LEAD.bot comes into the picture, serving as a management tool and collaboration app to help team members answer the 5H1W questions that are important in solving cross-departmental issues. The 5H1W questions ask:
• Who is in each department? The ability of team members to learn the names and responsibilities of other members of staff in supporting departments is a step towards interaction and cross-team collaboration.
• What does the department do? This question will enable teams to understand how other departments relate them with regard to how requests and queries can be handled or escalated.
• Why does it exist? Departments are expected to support the goals and mission of the entire organization. This means that the activities of individual departments make up the big picture of the mission of the business. It would therefore be beneficial for members of staff to understand what a department does, as well as why it exists within the organization.
• Where is it located? Information about where other departments are located can also be valuable in identifying ways to communicate with them. This answers the question of if other teams are located in the same office, in separate locations, or in different countries and time zones.
• When should the department be involved in another team’s work? Acknowledging the roles and duties of other departments can be instrumental in the establishment of productive routines between cross-functional teams. Depending on the task or request, operational procedures set out by the organization should be referred to, to identify the appropriate department to reach out to. In other cases, brainstorming activities across teams and departments could produce beneficial results that support the company’s vision.
• How does it operate? Departments within the organization may have different methods for handling projects or programs. Therefore, it would be advisable to consider how each department operates, follow the procedure and provide the necessary support for optimal results.
In addition, bringing teams together to encourage knowledge sharing and transfer using LEAD.bot on Microsoft Teams and Slack, for virtual coffee breaks and mentorship programs can strengthen inclusivity, collaboration, camaraderie and conflict resolution between cross-functional teams, remote teams, hybrid teams, divisions and departments.
Other steps for breaking down business silos in the workplace include:
• Sharing the common vision, bigger picture and goals for the company with respective departments. A lack of insight into the big picture of a company’s vision and mission can result in departmental silos, turf wars and other forms of power struggles that bring about complacency and the inability to recognize how certain silo behaviours and attitudes can threaten the growth of an organization. support a unified vision and provide an inclusive workspace where cross-functional teams can connect, learn, speak up, engage in information sharing and offer support, virtually or on-site. Channels or teams can be created in LEAD.bot through Microsoft Teams or Slack with customized preferences for the company and employees to converse, hang out virtually or organize in-person meetings at agreed locations for socializing and team building.
• Implementing company-wide employee training programs. It is crucial for companies to imbue within employees a common sense of purpose and direction for the company through an understanding of the ways output from their respective teams and departments affects other departments and the organization at large. Company-wide seminars can support the goal of bringing teams together to discuss completed projects, lessons learned, knowledge gained and the introduction of new skills and methods to stay up-to-date in technological and other world changes.
• Communicating frequently and effectively. Clear, concise and frequent communication between senior managers and their teams or departments will ensure that everyone is on the same page with regard to entire company goals, project status, pending tasks, responsibilities and even celebrations. This is also crucial for record-keeping purposes, so that information can be retrieved or referred to in the future.
• Implementing an internal knowledge base. This can be achieved using a range of mechanisms and digital structures to build a storage base for knowledge gained by different teams and departments. To eliminate hoarding, thereby making information readily available across the organization and creating room for knowledge sharing, exchange and team collaboration.
• Building balanced interdepartmental relations. Approaching departments with the knowledge that all departments are connected and therefore, they could be dealing with tasks and requests from other parts of the organization. While bearing in mind that banter and negotiations are useful skills to have when trying to get the desired outcome, this can help with the exchange of favourable support and building beneficial relationships in the workplace.
Organizational culture plays a massive role in overall employee engagement, cross-functional collaboration and team success. Therefore executives and leadership teams need to be proactive when building and creating the company culture to ensure it is one that performs soundly across teams, departments and functions to
encourage diversity and inclusion, while managing risks effectively, staying in line with the mission of the business, maintaining a customer-centred focus and great customer experience.