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Silo busting: Today’s must-have leadership skill

Organisational silos damage individual careers, teams and business opportunities. Do your leaders know how to eliminate them?

One of the greatest success drivers in today’s organisations lies in their ability to strategically and seamlessly move people between roles, functions and regions. As the demand for new technology, ways of working and ways of doing business continue to challenge leaders –coupled with the speed to adopt and adapt – there is no doubt that knowing how to influence and manage this movement is an imperative leadership skill.

When we fail to manage this movement, the danger for both individuals and businesses is in becoming stuck and losing not just opportunity but also relevance. We all know that if you put the same people in the same place doing the same ‘stuff’ for too long, silos form. These silos not only get in the way of great work and results, they damage individual careers, fracture teams and impede business growth.

Often though, it is silo mentality rather than structure that is at the heart of the challenge. Graham Winter author of Think One Team, notes that it is not so much the divisional or matrix structures that get in the way but the practices and behaviours of alignment, collaboration and learning within and between teams.

This would explain why some teams and organisations perform well regardless of the volatility and disruptive environments they operate in while others struggle to perform and even survive. The key to breaking down silos is mobility – we have to get people and information moving.

This means getting people involved, because as active participants not only do individuals establish a more balanced and informed view, they are more likely to shift from a fixed, problem-focused mindset to a solution-focused view where responsibility is shared.

Through mobility we are also rewarded with a greater diversity of knowledge and skills that are transplanted across the business to open minds and ultimately foster novel thinking, shared insights and innovative thinking.

As leaders, learning to manage and lead in a culture of mobility is no easy feat. As individuals we are largely wired for comfort, which in the work environment can all too easily translate into reluctance to engage, defensiveness and apathy. As with many change processes the key is to helping people understand the ‘why’ – what is the value to the customer, to them as an employee and to the business at large.

When individuals know and understand the reasoning behind the ‘why’ they are more likely to help you tear down the walls that get in the way of their own success and therefore that of the business.

4 Key Tips To Eliminating Silos

  1. Identify

    Ask yourself where are the silos (or potential risk of silos) in my team or business? What could happen if we had team X and team Y speaking / collaborating / innovating together? Consider what opportunities could be further optimised if silos were removed.

  2. Involve

    It’s very difficult to withhold information or take a passive role when you are ‘in the game’. Movement requires action, which in turn requires involvement.

  3. Facilitate

    Make movement ‘easy’. Consider the platforms needed, as well as the conversations and processes required. Easy adoption is critical to creating momentum and energy and is ultimately self perpetuating.

  4. Communicate

    As people navigate from the unknown to the known, clear, pragmatic, timely communication is critical to help build trust and speed in the journey.

1 Comment

  1. John Buchanan

    What if you took the view that silos are important to peak performance? What if you looked at why one silo was outperforming another silo? What if as a leader you encouraged silos to form knowing how they work best, and how they work best for the organisation? What if you saw silos as one strategy among other structural makeups to give your business competitive advantage?
    My background is as a successful team coach in which collaboration, cooperation and teamwork was essential to success. However, using a siloed approach within the team for certain ‘projects’ and roles, as well creating the team as a silo was a very useful strategy for success.

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