I have heard the phrase “We need to break down the silos” so many times that I have lost count.
It is an expression that has sneaked into the business language without anyone thinking through its meaning and consequences. A favorite saying of executives across the globe. Collaboration technology companies love it too.
But… Silos are much better than their reputation. They add closeness and trust to our working lives. A place where we can be ourselves and do not have to pretend! Above all, silos fulfill our desire for a sense of belonging.
I believe we need to stop fighting the silos! Instead, we need to treat them as a secret weapon. A weapon our competitors cannot copy. A weapon that can transform our businesses into agile “speed boats”.
Especially in a constantly changing business environment. Silos are the most efficient way to organize work. They are much more agile to navigate and easier to transform than any other organizational structure – and all of that while you retain the social capital. Silos also have the added benefit that the members of the silo have a sense of belonging and are more likely to help each other when needed.
What is not to like?
I believe it is about time we start praise silos for all the good they do!
Silos are the most efficient and agile way to organize work, but they lack certain capabilities that we require to win in business. Particularly, innovation.
But there is a way to get innovation without busting your silos! You just need to connect the silos in the right places with the right people.
A Leadership Task Treated With Laissez-Faire
Doing that is a leadership task. All too often treated with laissez-faire. Who should connect about what, when, and why? But what are the right places? – and who are the right people? I will answer those questions in a follow-post.
First, we need to understand the problem with the current approaches.
When a Senior Executive says: “Let’s Break Down the Silos”, then one of two things typically happen. Both have the same result: Inefficiency and lack of trust in leadership.
- You Let Employees Solve It: You leave it to employees to figure out who they should collaborate with – and they start to have coffee conversations, informal touch bases, invite numerous people into projects, coordination meetings become longer with more participants, and decisions slow down. Widespread inefficiency
- You Invest in Collaboration Technology: You implement a collaboration technology tool and believe you have fixed the problem… but then the 1/9/90-rule sets in and nothing happens. 1% of your employees use your tool, 9% listen in, and 90% are disconnected from it. Wasted investment
These approaches to create more collaboration make employees lose faith in their leadership ability to lead.
The illustration shows what is often desired when people talk “Let’s Break Down the Silos”.The result looks intriguing when displayed from a network perspective.
Everybody is connected to everybody and widespread collaboration can take place, but the risks are evident. Collaboration overload, Employees not knowing who to reach out to, when they need help, bureaucracy, and meeting hell. What was introduced to support agility suddenly turns into a slow organization, where everybody needs to coordinate and have a say. A supertanker.
There is a different way! – and it requires us to stop breaking down the silos. Instead, we should save them and use the obvious strengths the silos possess to build organizations that are efficient and agile, and where people know and trust each other, and where they have a sense of belonging. Speedboats!
I will share the how in a future post here on LinkedIn.
Leave your name in a comment below, and I will inform you when it is published.