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.
Create a “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 change happen.
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