One of the greatest challenges for business leaders today is keeping pace with the ever-increasing level of complexity and rapid rate of change that is now the new business ‘norm’. To maintain relevance and market share, great leaders know that they need to have the capability to nimbly adapt, pivot and collaborate not just externally but also internally.

Too often though, their efforts to do this are impeded by the siloed thinking and behaviour. Not only does it result in missed opportunities – both for the organisation and individuals within it – but it also damages healthy working cultures and efficiency.

Identifying ‘silo symptoms’ is therefore an imperative skill for all leaders, if they are to mitigate risk, grow capability and create opportunity. Like the human body, a business is a living organism and system that is prone to illness.

Just as a sore throat can all too easily turn into the full-blown flu if the symptoms aren’t identified early enough, our organisations can fall ill with their own ‘flu’, leaving the system feeling sluggish and failing to perform with any real impact. The real danger lies when this flu becomes a chronic illness, and precious energy, time and resources need to be diverted to combat these symptoms.

It is important to note that while some structures contribute to siloed ways of working, it is not so much their existence but rather the thinking and behaviour that are the real issue at hand. The key lies in knowing how to work across the structures and help individuals and teams ‘join the dots’, collaborate effectively and share the tools and resources to enable success.

Silos are often evidenced through a ‘them and us’ attitude; an ‘it’s not part of my job’ approach; or situations that see individuals and teams hamstrung and unable to progress because you either have to wait or chase for information from others.

Typically, the bigger the organisation, the more damaging and impeding the silos can be. As a result, resources are wasted, productivity is impeded, innovation is halted and good people are pushed out the door through sheer frustration and the feeling of being blindsided.

6 symptoms for leaders to look out for:

  1. Lack of alignment

    When groups fail to understand the value of their contribution or how it aligns to the big picture, fractures occur. Defining the big picture vision and strategy among teams and demonstrating the interdependent nature of shared priorities, which are revisited often, will help ensure that individuals and teams remain on the same page.

  2. Evidence of groupthink and operational bias

    Be aware of people simply doing things ‘because that’s the way they’ve always been done here’ or when groups blindly follow others unquestioningly. Not only does this breed apathy, it creates blind spots and quashes innovation and productivity.

  3. Lack of collaboration

    Few businesses plan or formalise collaboration as part of their business operations and, as such, teams too often fail to see the need or purpose for it. Organisations that are strategic about their communication and prioritise collaboration through multidisciplinary projects are said to see an increase in productivity and engagement by up to 15%.

  4. Duplication of processes and resources

    One of the most frustrating things to hear is ‘Oh we’ve been working on that too / we did that exact piece nearly six months ago / if only you had spoken to us earlier we could have given/introduced you to … ‘.

    Not only does this impact bottom line spend, it also has the potential to confuse, derail and undermine teams and relationships.

  5. Negative noise

    Pay attention to the negative noise and ‘listen’ for the root cause. Often it is an indication of lack of clarity, alignment or evidence of blockers in the team or business.

  6. Sense of apathy

    When people are indifferent about what they do, not only does the quality of their work fall, their commitment and interest in the impact of it is diminished. Quality, productivity and experience are compromised for teams, businesses and customers.

    1. When it comes to the operational health of your business, prevention is better than the cure. Knowing how to build cultures of co-creation, collaboration and diversity will not only help keep the silo mentality at bay, but will also treat the symptoms when they first emerge.