Organizational silos, the invisible walls between functional groups that prevent effective collaboration, can undermine any change initiative. At best, the result is local optimization at the expense of system effectiveness. At worst, silos generate animosity between departments and may lead to full-on feuds and even sabotage.
Take the following three steps to break down silos and improve collaboration in your organization.
Start at the Top
Silos mirror the relationship of the people at the top – executives, business unit managers, or department heads, for example. If top managers get along well, they are less likely to protect self-interests at the expense of others. If those same managers bicker with each other and maintain fiefdoms, then the people who report to them will tend to do the same.
Cultivate the relationships at the top of silos. Start conversations that encourage managers to see each other as people and not work adversaries. Create opportunities for them to build trust and understanding. Work to mediate any sticky issues and resolve past experiences that may have contributed to shoring up the silos.
Find Common Ground
When departments have conflicting goals, silos naturally become entrenched. In contrast, when those groups can agree on a common objective, then they have something they can rally around and work on together.
Focus on a mission to which multiple groups can connect. Perhaps the mission is serving customers, or fighting a common enemy. Pay attention to incentives and recognition that may be motivating groups to work against each other. Where they can’t be completely removed, acknowledge conflicting objectives and find ways to balance them instead of creating a winner-take-all battle.
Stop Silo Behaviors
Silos are maintained by behaviors that protect one’s own group at the others’ expense. Finger pointing, or blaming other groups for mistakes or bad performance, is a common silo-building behavior. Look further and you may find people hoarding resources and even letting other departments flounder.
Break down silos by eradicating the behaviors that maintain walls between groups. Replace them with behaviors that increase collaboration and unity. Foster personal accountability instead of blaming and excuses. Encourage a supportive attitude by recognizing those who step out of their silo to be helpful to others.
When groups in your organization work against each other, you may see your change initiative become a pawn in their game. Not only do you need people to not work against each other, you need them to work together effectively to implement change that will last. When you find invisible silo walls standing in the way of collaboration, work to break them down so your initiative has a chance at success.