Breaking Down Business Silos
What is the Silo Effect?:
The purpose of a silo is to separate large quantities of material from mixing. For farmers it makes sense to segregate the coal supply from the corn, grain, and wheat for obvious reasons. In a business environment, operating with departmental silos can be horribly detrimental. The Silo Effect in the business world refers to a lack of cooperation/communication between teams or departments within an organization. They are more prevalent in large corporations, but can occur anywhere. When teams and departments alienate themselves from each other it breeds abstraction.
The Dangers of Abstraction:
It is human nature that we feel more sympathetic towards people we know personally than those that we do not. Social pressure is so powerful that it causes us to do things against our own personal interests if it will help someone we care about. On the contrary, most people would not offer a helping hand even to the most minor extent if we heard something horrible happened to a person we have no connection with. When a company culture is stricken with abstraction, employees will put up their blinders to anyone seeking help because it has become impossible to feel others' struggles.
How to Manage Abstraction:
Names to Faces: Virtual communication has certainly become the norm due to its convenience and low-cost international meeting capabilities. However, employees must have some form of in-person contact with one another to truly establish a meaningful relationship. There are no substitutes of meeting someone face-to-face that can produce the same impact. Even one personal interaction is enough to permanently break down abstraction barriers.
Dunbar's Number: 150. The amount of close relationships most people can maintain. This is the reason why larger corporations with tens of thousands of employees tend to struggle with silos more so than smaller companies. There is a greater incentive to help out when you personally know everybody and all share a common goal. Meeting and maintaining a relationship with all 20,000 employees is physically impossible, but preventing abstraction from interfering with communication and team work can still be achieved.
Reciprocity Culture: There's nothing more frustrating than seeking assistance from the employee who is considered to be the "specialist," and then he or she simply refuses to help you without stating a reason why. The law of reciprocity predicts that you would not go out of your way to help that employee in the future if he or she needs help which only creates more silos. I'm not suggesting that you need to drop everything to help anyone at anytime. What I am suggesting is that if you are unable to help, provide the reason why and at least help them reach the next step of solving their problem via referral, resource, advice, etc.
Business silos are a relevant issue facing all organizations at some degree. Understanding how to break them down is the first step in creating a much more cooperative working environment. Managing abstraction reduces hostility and lack of empathy towards fellow colleagues. The more transparent departments are when it comes to sharing information, the more efficient the company will be as a whole. Remember that everyone is pursuing a common goal, and that titles should not dictate how you treat a fellow employee. At the end of the day, everyone is on the same team.
Written by: Jim Toth
Reference: "Leaders Eat Last" by: Simon Sinek
"Leaders Eat Last" is a great informational book written by best-selling author Simon Sinek. He goes into great detail about how to lead from the front, inspire employees to be the best they can be, and live a rewarding life. I encourage you read this book for it can change the way you think and live.