By Louise Raeside, Engagement Lead at DRIVE Engagement
'Silo' working can often become ingrained in the culture of a department or a whole organisation if left unaddressed, leading to disconnect, frustration and lower engagement levels with the business for many.
What is silo working?
'Silo' working is unfortunately present in organisations of all types and sizes, where typically several departments, groups or individuals choose not to, or unwittingly don't (for various reasons we won't discuss now) share information or knowledge with colleagues.
And with events over the past ten months meaning that many companies have adopted more remote working and of course, socially distanced or 'staggered' working for those key workers that must be on-site, we see silo working creep back in. 'Silo culture creep' is not only being seen between departments, but within teams themselves too and this can start to diminish employee connections.
Hierarchy and silos
Traditionally many organisations are set up with a hierarchy structure, yet this often reinforces the idea of 'separateness'. This can be problematic, given what we really want (and need) when it comes to working effectively is togetherness. In hierarchical structures, only specific senior leaders can make decisions; strategy and problem resolution is determined by those further up the hierarchy; and 'how to' instructions and rules are often dictated top down to the rest of the organisation. This manifests in silo thinking and can sometimes result in questionable, autocratic decisions being made where leaders are so far removed from the day to day, that they don't actually reflect or address what is really happening with 'on the ground' issues.
Silo mentality often forms as a direct result of poor leadership. After all, it is typically the case that we take our lead from the top when it comes to workplace behaviours. It is an issue you might be familiar with – leaders who can often be so focused on what they are doing that they forget to bring their people along with them. Perhaps you have experienced it before? To avoid this, leaders will need to role model what they expect from their team to create effective and long-term solutions to dispel silo mentality, both in their own working style and that of their team members.
Here's how to ditch 'silo culture creep' for more collaborative team working in four ways:
- Reiterate company core values:
Following on from the importance of leadership role modelling and breaking down hierarchical working patterns that tend to exacerbate silo development, having strong, clear company core values that place an emphasis on the importance of teamwork, collaboration and communication is also key. Ensuring that this messaging is reiterated now – at the start of a new year – is an ideal time to demonstrate and remind employees about the values and behavioural expectations that shape the firm's culture and company brand.
- Regular open communication:
Virtually all job roles require some form of interaction between a person and other parts of the business. Whether that business is office based, operates from within a factory or is a customer services business; there really are very few roles that anyone can work in completely independently these days. And whether we are in a pandemic or not, regular, open and transparent communication should be a top priority – especially within a team. Regular communications and making provision for teams to connect (and stay connected) will enable a sense of unity and belonging, allow more clarity around the wider business issues and reassure the whole team that they are valued and secure. Leaders would also do well to take time to include their teams in the task priority-setting process too, allowing teams to rally around the same objectives and collaboratively work together for better outcomes. In doing so they will see far better results, a more cohesive team and reduced silo working.
- Problem-solve together:
When problems arise in our working environments, the key is not to lay blame or criticise colleagues or other departments, but to discuss the steps needed to solve and improve them openly together. Leaders need to trust in the knowledge and experience of employees in their roles, as they really do know their jobs the best! Empowering employees and encouraging joint and cross-functional accountability through working together, listening to one another and establishing root-cause through the problem-solving process will really demonstrate paring back of silo thinking at senior level. Not only that, but it will also break down barriers and silo working between departments and teams; start eliminating a leadership culture that might work by 'you need to do this and do it this way'; and send out the right message about the benefits of collaborative working – all of which can only positively help improve employee engagement.
- Last but not least – call it out!
One of the most important things we can do to help reduce silo working is to raise awareness by calling it out if and when it does happen (even if you realise it's you working in a silo!). Accepting you are falling into the trap of silo working and calling it out can be a great way of role modelling to others what best practice is. Again, the key is to avoid any blame here, stick to the facts (not emotions) and work out how to improve and resolve the issue. Honest and constructive dialogue is essential. And remember, to 'call it out' doesn't always have be about looking at instances where a leader or team member (or yourself!) fell short, it could also be about celebrating when people have collaborated well or congratulating when a silo working pattern was recognised and a team or individual managed to pull back from it. However, celebrating team successes (over and above individual successes) is a better way of putting the emphasis back on a collaborative working.