Posts Tagged ‘Harvard Business School’

The Silo Effect – Communications (Part 2)

The objective of my last blog posting was to bring awareness about communication silos. This post addresses several root causes and suggestions on how to solve the problems of communication silos. I do hope you have had a chance to reflect on possible silos in your organization. Let’s get on with the good stuff and discuss root causes and solutions, shall we? In the spirit of the Final Four of March Madness, good luck to the Indiana Men & Women’s NCAA basketball teams – Butler Bulldogs and Notre Dame Fighting Irish…..Game on!

When a company experiences fast growth, it tends to become more segmented. To address the growth, the company may add business units, e.g., to the organizational structure.  What happens if the company’s core values, strategies, mission, and vision are not clearly communicated and understood throughout the growing organization? There is confusion, conflicting objectives, hidden agendas, autonomous management, lack of coordination, less cooperation, politics, a new culture may evolve, and silos emerge. How do we prevent this from happening? Simply, make sure the culture supports transparency and across the board communication. Culture of the core business is a key factor. Bringing about awareness of the core company’s vision and strategy as the company grows, making sure that every area aligns their objectives with those of the core business.  This has to be ongoing, as companies can get so caught up with the crazy busy aspect of rapid growth that the heart of the business gets lost in the shuffle and then the culture or organizational design becomes the root cause for the silos. When this happens, the new business units become separate entities from the core business. This is why you may see different cultures within the same company. Hence, silos are born. The silos prevent the company from effective communication and team cohesiveness across the board. Silos also increase the use of politics in an organization.

There can be silos across departments of a business. Many who read this might have had thoughts at one time or another in the workplace that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing because of the lack of communication. One cause of this is a lack of a company newsletter to communicate business news and changes within the organization. Another cause is a lack of cross-functional teams, which can be traced to culture. In the past, I have been part of HR, Production, and Quality departments, to name a few. In some instances, there were cross-functional teams and meetings across the departments, while other times there were only department teams and meetings. In the latter case, the silos were alive and kicking and the results were anything but effective. Silos are not only ineffective, but can cost companies many opportunities to improve. This translates into waste and loss of value. According to a Harvard Business School article, The Silo Lives! Analyzing Coordination and Communication in Multiunit Companies, “…most people tended to communicate with others in their own group or with peers….We were surprised by how little interaction occurs across three major boundaries: the strategic business unit, the organizational function, and the geographic office location.”

This may be a surprise to many, but there can be silos within departments. Let’s imagine this scenario: The department manager has aligned the department goals with the company’s vision and strategy. Although the manager has not had many informational meetings with her team, she has tried to communicate when she has the chance.  The culture does support transparency and communications. However, several team members seem to be confused concerning the team goals and what is going on within the department. There does not seem to be communication between the team members. The manager is at a loss as to the problem. She thought she was doing everything right, so what’s up? One of the causes could be ineffective communications, which might have created a silo within the department. We must make sure we clearly define the goals to our teams and that we take the time to communicate as much as we can using various methods such as team meetings, e-mails and meeting one on one with team members. We must also create a collaborative environment for our teams to communicate and work together, if the culture supports that type of environment. If not, culture can be deemed as the root cause and politics will increasingly become the norm. Providing specific feedback (preferably POSITIVE constructive feedback)  to our teams is a must, as well. How can we expect our teams to do their jobs effectively, if we do not provide appropriate feedback?  Positive communications can promote behavior change. If a manager is struggling, it might help to offer leadership development training, i.e., communications and team building training. This leader may need to be trained on how to facilitate effective meetings, as well. We cannot presume that all managers or leaders are great communicators, team builders and meeting facilitators. By developing our leaders, we may be able to reduce the number of silos in our departments, if the culture supports development.

Although this posting deals with several causes of silos and suggestions to eliminate those silos, each situation is different. There may be underlying factors in each case which may show a different root cause. An analysis can determine existence of silos and root causes. An action plan can then define path forward in selecting and implementing the best solutions to eliminate the silos. Communication is a key factor to running a successful business. We must make sure that communication silos do not prevent us from succeeding.

Tammi Peters, M.S. HRD ~ Organizational Development Professional