Silos.

You’ve heard the term, you know what it means.

And when someone uses it in the same sentence as they are talking about your organisation, then I wouldn’t be at all surprised if your initial reaction was along the lines of a cold shiver passing through your body.

According to the business directory, Silo mentality is defined as

A mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.

Silo mentality is often to blame when some or all your teams start operating as individual units, more concerned with competing against each other, and /or blaming each other when things go wrong than in working towards your organisational goals.

For your people to be engaged in what your business is trying to achieve, they all need to be on the same page and working together to bring the vision to life.

As Sir Richard Branson says,

Success in business is all about people, people, people. Whatever industry a company is in, its employees are its biggest competitive advantage…

Since the very beginning, our team at Virgin has placed a firm emphasis on “we” rather than “I”. Our businesses are focused on breaking down the silos that can inhibit or stifle collaborative team efforts that drive innovation.

OK, OK, yes, I admit it, we’ve got silos here. So, what can we do about it?

In a blog like this, where the word count and reader’s time are in short supply, there is only so much that I can share with you.

But here are four ideas that I offer up to you to help break down those silos and bring back focus to the whole team effort.

  1. Walk a day in my shoes. Subtitled interdepartmental exhibits.

You’ve probably heard a version of this story.

“It’s all sales’ fault, they’re selling the wrong products and we can’t deliver” claim your Admin team, sick to the back teeth of dealing with angry and disappointed customers and suppliers.

Sales will in turn blame production or maybe marketing. Who in turn send the blame right back to Admin and their scrappy or inaccurate paperwork.

It can be a vicious cycle that is hard to break, and it was this exact situation facing one SME with staff of just over 100 that I assisted.

What this organisation did to try and break the silos and the resulting blame game, was to hold inter-departmental exhibits. Each team took turns hosting members from the other departments for half a day so that staff could see firsthand exactly what it was their counterparts actually did on a daily basis. Activities ranged from co-attending client meetings, reading through folders full of SOPs, to spending half a shift on the floor.

The silo walls started to crack and break down, as participants discovered things such as it is a lot harder to blame ‘those sales guys’ for all the mistakes when you know a bit more about them and after you’ve spent half a day out on the road with them sharing the unique experience of cold calling.

  1. ‘Random Lunch with Dave’

Credit where it is due; I came across this idea on an blog post I read recently. As the author says, the article is intended to inspire readers with “7 amazing employee engagement examples from companies who are doing it right”.

All the examples are great, some more accessible than others. But this was my personal favourite.

The CEO invites one member from each department out to a monthly lunch. At the lunch….

There is no agenda for each lunch, but the goal of the initiative is to help everyone get to know one another, to keep communication walls from building up, gain insight on culture and product ideas, and most importantly to help DC [CEO] identify choke points within the organisation, which have the power to disengage and switch people off. 

Attendees are a true mix of staff from different departments and functions, newbies/ vets and everything in between, and always an odd number are invited to make it difficult to pair up.

  1. New staff member profiles

As we suggested in our blog #2, if we know something about a new starter, particularly something humourous, we are more likely to approach them and start up a conversation with them. Whether they work in our department or not. They will fill part of a team bigger than themselves and be more likely to continue interactions with co-workers from other business units.

So, interview the recruit, find out something unique about them, and then share their story via your newsletter/intranet/ or your internal company version of Facebook such as job vibe.

  1. Gamification

Or if that is another of those words that cause you to break out in a cold sweat – team games played online, rather than in person. Although that can happen too.

Gamification can help drive engagement across your organisation by placing people from different departments into teams that compete against each other to ‘win’.

For example, Healthchase pits staff from different functions, locations, and/or shifts against each other in newly created online teams. Each team vies to be crowned health champions by earning the most points, and points are earned from making healthy choices in relation to diet, exercise and stress-reduction strategies.

A live scoreboard keeps participants engaged during the game, and staff get to know people from other units in their team by sharing posts of their healthy choices.

As well as breaking down silos, additional benefits for employers from a healthier workforce can include increased productivity as well as reduced absenteeism and staff turnover.

So if you felt that cold shiver at the start of this blog when you read the word ‘silos’, but in the spirit of spring you think it is time for renewal, we hope you found inspiration in these ideas.

And if you would like some help with this, then give us a call. We can unpack what’s caused the silos to build up in the first place and then recommend ways to knock those suckers right down.

Come and engage with us.