Ever heard of an information silo? Basically, it’s what happens when information and ideas are closed off, like grain stored in a silo. From inside the silo, the information is easily accessible, but if you’re outside the silo – well, bad luck. In the workplace, a Silo Mentality occurs when different departments, teams, or offices operate like Information Silos.
If you can’t relate to this description of Silo Mentality, then great! It’s likely you work in a communicative, collaborative environment. But if you’re nodding your head in recognition, there’s no need to despair. There are plenty of proven strategies to combat Silo Mentality, and we’ve found four of the best.
Refine and Emphasise Your Company Mission
One reason large companies are so frequently ‘siloed’ is that different departments can be working to realise very different objectives. The IT department at an e-Commerce company, for example, might be focussed on ironing out back-end bugs, while its Customer Service team is busy dealing with customer requests and returns. Each team works to a different goal, using different processes and skill-sets, in order to reach different incentives. According to Entrepreneur, ‘To create a cohesion, team members must be provided with a convincing reason to be a part of the company mission.’ That’s why finding a company mission that ties these seemingly disparate objectives together is so important. A statement like, ‘Our mission is to facilitate a memorable online retail experience in the independent design sector’ neatly ties different departmental goals together. Once you’ve articulated and refined your company mission, call back to it during inter-departmental meetings: it’ll help keep everyone on the same page.
Encourage ‘Boundaryless Behaviour’
Jack Welch, the legendary CEO who headed GE from 1981 to 2001, hated Silo Mentality and advocated for ‘Boundaryless Organization’ – his term – instead. Boundaryless Organization occurs when barriers are broken down between hierarchical levels, departments and job functions, meaning that employees can collaborate across teams and inhabit several different roles. It’s an approach that might work better for some workplaces than it does for others, but almost all workplaces could benefit from adopting one of Welch’s boundaryless tactics: the Work-Out. In a nutshell, the Work-Out facilitates multi-day work sessions where task forces, comprising employees from a range of departments as well as other stakeholders, focus on tackling problems or on implementing a new strategy. These sessions are held at 30-day intervals over a 90 day period. Welch believes that bringing a diverse group of employees together to focus on a common objective, encouraged ‘boundaryless behaviour’ that in turn leads to organisational change, helping ‘any company, regardless of size, act and feel like a smaller, nimbler and more resilient enterprise’. At the end of the process, the task team reports back to the whole firm in a Town Hall Meeting. Speaking of which…
Try a Town Hall Meeting
The Town Hall is similar to an all-hands meeting, in that everyone in the company should be present with one simple tweak: it allows far more scope for feedback. Format-wise it takes its cues from meetings where councilors speak with their constituents, opening up the lines of communication to ask for their input and address their concerns. Workopolis offers a few tips for holding an effective Town Hall including: circulate all the materials well in advance; allow employees to submit questions anonymously; distribute feedback forms at the end of the meeting. You don’t need to hold a Town Hall weekly or monthly: in fact, considering the amount of preparation that goes into pulling off a successful Town Hall, we suggest you schedule them sparingly. But, when executed well, a good Town Hall should create a sense of community and shared purpose in your workplace. Best of all, it shows your team that management take feedback, communication, and collaboration seriously. Research shows that Silo Mentality often trickles down from management; a Town Hall allows for managers to model a cooperative work culture.
Don’t Forget the Geographical Silos
When you’re holding that Town Hall there’s one thing you really shouldn’t forget to do: patch in any remote or offsite workers as well as any teams that work in different offices. As remote working becomes increasingly accepted and as companies set up multiple offices around the globe, it’s easy for geographical Information Silos to form, too: more than ever, firms are likely to operate in different locations and time zones. Luckily, the same technology that allows for remote and offsite work can be utilised to combat geographical silos: form a Slack group for workers across multiple locations and set up a regular Skype meeting or videoconference (being sure to take different timezones into account) between onsite and offsite employees.
Silo Mentality makes collaboration and communication challenging: luckily, crafting a company-wide vision, encouraging boundaryless behaviour, and refining your meeting strategy, can combat its negative effects and create a healthier work culture.
By Jessica Miller
Jessica Miller is an Australian writer currently based in Berlin.