The Noodle


How to identify the walls, and then break them down.

The contrast couldn’t have been more apparent. Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., faculty member for the Institute for Management Studies, watched her husband’s knee surgery replacement (both knees) and subsequent recovery go extraordinarily well. Within a short amount of time he was out of the hospital and on his way to recovery. “The collaboration between the doctors, nurses, therapists and aides was outstanding,” Goman says. “I think that’s why his recovery was so amazing.”

But her sister’s recovery from an illness was a nightmare. She was a few states away, so Goman attempted to learn about her treatment through the nurses over the phone, who, in turn, were trying to find out her treatment plan from the doctors, who apparently weren’t communicating with anyone besides themselves.

In this case, there was no collaboration. “It was disastrous for my sister,” Goman recalls. “As far as a customer or patient, in any industry, when collaboration fails, the customer is the ultimate loser,” she says.

The art of collaboration in the corporate world is very similar. The essence of an organization’s success can be traced to silos, which happen when one department within the organization works without looking at what the others are doing. They also are prevalent when a department or part of the organization operates without regard for what the company is trying to do as a whole.

In his book, “Silos, Politics and Turf Wars,” Patrick Lencioni, president of The Table Group, writes that “silos are nothing more than the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.”

Amy Hiett, GM for The Table Group, says that silos can potentially create frustration and confusion among employees. “People within organizations move in differing directions, often at cross-purposes, resulting in frustration and wasted resources.”

The truth is that silos can be a fatal flaw in communicating with customers or presenting a unified marketing message. The first step toward eliminating them is to realize how costly the silo mentality is. “It literally costs billions of dollars,” Goman says. “It leads to the duplication of effort, failure to leverage, confusing messages in the marketplace – or organization – and the loss of productivity in the organization. … You’ve got to know how negative it is in order to address it.”

Identifying silos can shine the light on dysfunction and be a starting point for aligning the executives or project teams around a common objective. Eliminating them helps to create dialogue. Karyn Greenstreet, president of The Success Alliance, and a small business coach and Mastermind Group Expert, suggests asking your team members how they can connect teams and people together to build a stronger, single business. “Let the grassroots employees tell you their ideas. You’ll never know what ideas they have to offer if you don’t ask.”

Following are six ways your organization can get rid of the silo mentality:

No. 1 – Communicate

In his book, “Silos, Politics and Turf Wars,” Patrick Lencioni writes that as employees notice their colleagues in other divisions repeatedly moving in different directions, they begin to wonder why they aren’t on board. Over time, their confusion turns into disappointment, which eventually becomes resentment – even hostility – toward their supposed teammates. And then the worst thing possible happens – they actually start working against those colleagues on purpose.

Amy Hiett, GM for The Table Group, says silos can be eliminated when executives develop a “thematic goal” or “rallying cry,” and use that as a guide in their regular meetings.

No. 2 – Align

Everyone must understand their role in making the organization succeed and what other people are doing to make the organization succeed. “You need to know in your silo what other departments and teams are doing and how they support you and how you can support them,” says Karyn Greenstreet, president of The Success Alliance, and a small business coach and Mastermind Group Expert. “I visited a company and asked a department what they did when they finished their portion of the project, and they basically said, ‘throw it over the cubicle to the other team.’ There was no hand off or sharing of what they learned. They simply said, ‘We’ve done our job and here is yours.’”

No. 3 – Use cross-functional teams to brainstorm together

Having another set of eyes and ears on your project, especially from outside your team, helps you see the bigger picture and makes sure you’re not mono-focused on your own work, Greenstreet says. It also gives you a new perspective on possible solutions to challenges that come up because people outside your team don’t have the mantra of “that’s always the way we’ve done it.”

No. 4 – Reward collaboration

Rewarding silos encourages inward thinking. Building collaborative performance objectives into a project or employee review process encourages innovation and cross pollination. Different people are joining the conversation.

“When a worker is only rewarded based on his work or his team’s work, he has no motivation to care about the other team’s success,” says Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., faculty member for the Institutes for Management Studies. “And make sure you have interim goals and final goals; don’t make your people sweat about knowing how they’re doing.”

No. 5 – Focus on the customer

Companies don’t necessarily organize themselves around a customer need; they organize themselves around a function or product. “If you really do focus on the customer, you start sharing marketplace information, sharing customer feedback, you bring in a panel of end users to report their experience so everyone understands the enterprise as a whole, meeting or exceeding customer expectations,” Goman says.

In addition, it’s critical that everyone must know about the concept of integrated marketing. “The reputation of the business depends on consistent branding across all teams,” Greenstreet says. “It’s not just about how sales and marketing treat the customer, it’s about how customer service, tech support and even the cleaning staff talk about the business to the outside world. Building a brand is more than a fancy logo or a viral video … it’s about building a reputation in any place where the public can see you … and even where they can’t.”

No. 6 – Get personal

Collaborative relationships thrive in an environment of personal trust, which means you need to get to know people as individuals, and organizations need to allow for social time. “One CEO at a conference told me, ‘All the important conversations are taking place around the wine and cheese table,’” Goman says.

By Graham Garrison