The Word With The Bad Reputation

Written by Sean Glaze on December 14, 2017

The focus of many frustrations, the spurring of many strategies, and the point of much discussion and despairing, “silo” has become a bad word in the association space.

But we should remember the role they fulfil in team-building, and consider the importance of fostering connections within an organization. Should we, in fact, be asking different questions to increase communication and overcome divisions in the workplace?

Workplace silos are not just barriers to be torn down. Silos are also connections - they forge links between people based upon shared challenges, values, and contexts. We compartmentalize not just to divide between, but also to unite amongst, each other.

When we are frustrated by unnecessary, duplicate tasks, or our efforts to communicate are thwarted by blocked channels, silos have a negative effect on efficiency. But to the question “can you help us break down silos?”, my response is always the same: “create more connections.”

Whether it’s inter-departmental or within a department, silos occur because people make those connections and stick to them. People need to be more connected to each other and to a compelling common goal, so that silos are smaller parts of, and contribute to, a larger whole.

I worked as an athletics coach before venturing into team-building and speaking. Everyone has heard the phrase, “there’s no I in team”, but every athlete I ever coached was an individual first. Each person in your office is also an individual first. Leaders need to show people that they are a part of something bigger. When we notice the ripple effect of individual actions, we understand who depends on who. Accountability grows from understanding the impact of your actions through these connections.

Everything rises and falls on leadership, as John C. Maxwell says. Leadership also begins with an awareness, not just of your strengths and weaknesses, but of your situation and the role you play within the organization. This applies to professionals of every level. Start with defining a compelling common goal so everyone has a desire to participate in its overall success. Then work out efficient ways to improve communication across the workplace.

Does your association have an organizational chart? Such a simple tool can facilitate defined communication of who’s going to give what to who by when. Silos occur because of a lack of clarity in terms of expectations. If you set up those expectations, with an organizational chart that shows who everyone is responsible to, those relationships provide clarity and keep communication flowing.

Not all activities are teamwork activities. You can do certain things without organizational input or collaboration. Maybe breaking down silos is not the goal, but instead we should be connecting them together to form a strong network. Give people time and opportunity to form those connections and share ideas and learn each other’s personalities and needs. There’s no collaborative conversation without that foundation of relationship that precedes it. Create opportunities for collisions and knowledge flow. For example, have assigned seats in meetings. People need to get to know each other but unless encouraged otherwise, they will stay in their silo. Make specific changes to open the door to collaboration.

Managers reading this might think: “I’ve got enough on my plate and so do my team. Where will I find the time and resources to allow all this? What will it cost me to build connections?” That’s a legitimate concern, but a recent study showed that organizations lose millions of dollars a year to poor communication. Think about the long-term benefits of these measures before you shy away from them.

Does this topic intrigue you? Sean spoke on this subject at SURGE 2017, a free virtual summit we hosted November 7-9th. Click here to access the replay of the session