When a business works in silos – where each team pursues its own goals independently, rather than working in a coherent way with the rest of the organisation – it can cause all sorts of problems. Silos often mean that work is duplicated across teams, problems fall down the cracks between them, and opportunities are missed. Teams can end up frustrated and pitted against each other, pulling in opposite directions to achieve their respective goals. Ultimately, innovation is hampered, productivity suffers, and morale can plummet.
But how can this problem be tackled? Firstly, it’s important to understand the root cause.
What causes working in silos?
Firstly, I want to cover off what doesn’t cause silos. There’s a common perception that poor communication is what leads to teams working in silos, but that’s not really it. Yes, of course, better communication is essential for the kind of collaborative working that we’re looking to achieve, but unless that communication is happening within the right business and organisational context, silos will persist.
I’ve seen companies try to tackle silos with communication solutions (including one that invested in a whole new intranet specifically for this reason), but the only difference that really makes to the way teams work is that they have additional options for communicating – alongside email, telephone, WhatsApp, Messenger, FaceTime, Zoom, workflow management system messaging, and any of the myriad other choices already available.
Providing new (even improved) internal communication channels just doesn’t get to the crux of the matter, and in fact it can be counter-productive. People will use the communication channels that suit their needs best; giving them extra options can just provide unhelpful, distracting digital noise.
So what does cause teams to work in silos?
People will always do their best to achieve their personal and team goals – which are likely to be closely aligned, to ensure that the team works effectively together. If you ask one team to collaborate with another whose goals differ, then you’ll find that the collaboration is less effective – they’re chasing different outcomes.
Consider the sales team who promises a new client a certain amount of the technical team’s time in order to clinch a new deal (deciding in the moment that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission).
This means that the technical team gets pulled away from their own team goal of product development in order to fulfil the sales team’s promise – if they don’t, then they appear uncooperative and not client-focused. Resentment, frustration and stress can build over time, with the tech team believing their ability to reach their own goals has been compromised by the sales team’s revenue-chasing tactics. Such bad feeling causes more disconnection, and further entrenchment of silos (perhaps even impacting on client experience, if expectations set by sales are not fully met).
The long and the short of it is, if you want teams to work together successfully, you have to make sure their goals match.
How can silos be broken down?
If teams’ goals don’t match, then it’s a sign that the company’s vision has not been set well. To remedy the problem of teams working incoherently and independently to follow their own goals, make sure that all goals are aligned company-wide.
Setting the right targets (goals that are top-level outcomes), and focusing on long-term value, will facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas, better communication (but as a conduit, not an end in itself), and collaboration – which leads to more innovation, more efficient working practices, more productivity, and less talent churn (read: increased profitability).
In an ideal world, a company’s vision would be honed in this way from the outset, but unless you’re contemplating a start-up then that opportunity will have already passed. It is possible to re-align team goals in a positive, inspiring re-casting of company vision, though of course careful change management will be required. That said, with the right approach, it might be easier than you would imagine. Stakeholders will quickly realise the huge benefits if, once you’ve decided on the right goal to achieve, you simply let them get on with it.
Don’t mandate the tools teams must use or how they go about the task; given a common problem, people will self-organise (Spotify is a really great example of this – their Squads model is well worth holding up as an exemplar). If a method works then word will spread, and so too will the successful method itself.
If you’d like to talk in more detail about how to break down silos and improve innovation, efficiency, productivity, morale and ultimately profitably in your business, contact Matt Little at Blue Ocean Insight.
The information contained in this article does not constitute business advice and should not be acted on as such. This content is based on our understanding in August 2020. Head Resourcing are not liable for the information contained on any third-party websites linked to this article.