Without question, it makes sense to divide roles and responsibilities among team members. This knowledge has led organisations to develop formal structures in the form of departments.
The big problem is that many of these departments have sought to take on an existence of their own. They construct protective walls to insulate themselves from outside influences. They have become silos and now represent a serious hindrance to effective teamwork.
I share two silo experiences to demonstrate their negative impact.
At a national media house, the Editorial Department had created a fiefdom. Marketing and Sales are responsible for generating
revenues. However, it would take a brave heart for someone from Marketing to approach the fiefdom with suggestions. I managed to develop enough credibility and goodwill to earn audience with the editors and, arising from that meaningful collaboration, new revenue-enhancing contents were created and published.
The second experience did not have the positive ending. While working in Germany in a cosmetics firm, a problem developed with a large client. My head of department (HOD) was more focused on finding out who was at fault than on solving the problem.There was no offer of assistance, commiseration or solidarity. The company was beset by turf wars, with strong internal competition among departments for recognition, resources and promotions. This incident would set back the offending executive and boost my HOD.
Corporate silos like this are
driven by objectives that often run counter to the best interests of the organisation. Entire teams are guided into practices that hinder productivity and performance. This leads to a waste of resources, and team members often experience feelings of frustration, anger and a lack of fulfilment.
You might well be caught up in one of these debilitating turf wars.
That environment with the absence of meaningful communication produces this result:
One team collects raw data. They spend hours refining and packaging it for submission to another department. The other department immediately assigns team members the task of decompiling the data back to the raw state that is required for their work.
You may be shaking your head at the folly of that situation. Unless you operate in an environment where there is open communication and internal customers are treated with the same level of respect as external ones, similar events are likely to be taking place in your organisation. Check it!
It is the responsibility of team leaders to breach the walls of silos. Here is a step-by-step plan for breaking through corporate silos:
Step 1: Commit to the principle that your fortunes are better in the context of a cohesive whole than as an independent entity fighting battles internally and externally.
Step 2: Open up your team to scrutiny, criticism and advice from other colleagues - even those who are on the same level or on lower rungs of the ladder.
Step 3: Work to demonstrate high levels of efficiency and build trust. The key is to position yourself as a welcome guest in their silos. You will know when you have achieved that status when team leaders seek your advice.
n Avoid rushing in with a battering ram, demanding changes without the credibility or authority to do so.
n Avoid getting up on a pulpit preaching the value of cooperation and effective communication while standing behind your own walls. Instead, demonstrate the positive impact by the example of your team.
Step 4: Identify areas for improvement in the operations of your team. See if changes in other teams could produce better results. Approach the relevant teams for advice! Ask, don't tell.
Diplomatically share the challenges that you are experiencing and brainstorm possible solutions. Hopefully, those teams will come to their own conclusion to implement the desired change.
Step 5: Don't be discouraged. Selfish motives may trump shared interest. Stay true to openness and collaboration.
• Learn to master similar challenges with the SHRM-accredited 3-D Leader Certification or join the next cohort of the ICF-accredited 'Certified Behavioural Coach Award'. Make a difference - be a different kind of leader. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on board. Trevor E. S. Smith is a behaviour modification coach with the Success with People Academy, Extended DISC/FinxS.