This article first appeared in the Kotter International Newsletter.
Silos can be found in global corporations or in start-up
ventures with 15 employees and no matter the size, they are detrimental to an
organization's ability to succeed in a rapidly changing world. It's important
to note silos can be vertical or horizontal. Functions and divisions can have
high barriers between them or senior leadership can be completely isolated from
lower management levels.
A siloed organization cannot act quickly on opportunities
that arise in a fast-paced business landscape and are unable to make productive
decisions about how to change in order to seize these opportunities.
Can you recognize when silos are forming in your
organization? There are several signs. First, are you surprised to hear about
projects taking place in other divisions? Are these projects well underway
without you ever knowing about them? Second, do you communicate infrequently
with other leaders around the organization? Finally, have you been championing
an opportunity or project for a while, and a large subset of the organization
doesn't know about it or understand why you are pursuing it?
To eliminate silos, you must bring people across the
organization together. There are several ways you can do this:
Bring the outside in:
Ensure divisions share data with one another so people understand how each
division is performing, what customer or external stakeholder complaints are and
where there is room for improvement. Make it clear needed changes are an
important opportunity to galvanize action, but it's not a blame game. Frame
changes that must be made as organizational, not divisional.
Focus on opportunity,
not crisis: While crisis can be a catalyst for action, fear can also send
people running for the door. If you frame the organization's need to break down
silos as a positive opportunity, you will see more people raising their hands
to help make it happen. Help people in different divisions understand how they
have a chance to make the organization better and more powerful by eliminating
the barriers between divisions or management levels.
"guiding coalition" that breaks down barriers: Bring together a
team of people committed to changing the way the organization operates,
composed of people from all levels, divisions and locations. Don't pick this team;
ask people to apply for it to gauge their levels of commitment.
Once formed, hold an inaugural in-person meeting that allows
members to connect to each other with both hearts and minds as a way to build
trust among them. Set regular meetings, such as quarterly in-person gatherings
and bi-weekly conference calls, to maintain momentum. Encourage group members
to communicate outside of organized meetings and more importantly, filter
messages about the group's activities to others in their respective divisions
or offices. Finally, ensure senior leadership stays closely involved with the
guiding coalition - without this involvement, the group cannot make needed
by John P. Kotter