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Silos Can Kill Your Strategies

Departments That Think Only About Themselves Will Destroy Teamwork.

By Steve Schumacher

I worked with a plant several years ago that was having some issues with various departments working in silos – focusing on their own department’s goals, and not showing active support for other departments. The head of the department was a very good leader of his employees, and they were very loyal to him and worked hard to support him.

In the process of being a good leader, the manager focused almost entirely on his own department and achieving what they needed to achieve. That laser focus on accomplishing his own objectives resulted in other departments not getting the help and support they needed from him to accomplish their objectives. The situation had gotten to the point where the plant manager had to step in to break down those silos and foster greater teamwork across all departments.

Accountability for individual department’s objectives is vital, but so is accountability for departments working together and supporting each other. I have found that there is a natural friction between production and maintenance, quality control and production, and sales and production. When that friction becomes counter-productive, something must be done. If you do not take action, department and plant goals, along with company goals, will be compromised.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to identify when silos start to form in your organization, and take proactive steps to curtail the effect on accomplishing objectives. The following are a few things that will help you in both:

Understand that people will have conflict. As human beings, we do not always get along with each other. That is especially true in business, when sometimes goals conflict and accomplishing them makes people work at cross-purposes. This sort of conflict is natural, but you must be able to identify when that conflict gets to the point where nobody wins.

Look for tell-tale signs of silos forming. Watch for things like supervisors not talking to each other in meetings, employees only interacting with people in their own departments, a high level of complaints about other departments, and key metrics not being hit. One of the first signs of silos forming is employees and supervisors throwing other departments under the bus. Remember, some of this is normal, so watch for it happening frequently.

Get an objective person involved. Sometimes, it is tough for a leader to be objective about what is going on when silos start to form. We get caught up in thinking that it will just go away, or the badmouthing happens when a leader is not around so it is tough to spot. An objective person, like HR, can come in and talk to people to get to the root cause of the silos. A temperature check like this, in person or through surveys, can help identify trouble spots early on.

Take action immediately. Once you are convinced that silos are forming, you must get the key people together a share your observations. Tell them what you are seeing and hearing, and let them know what the long-term implications of it are and that you expect it to stop. Ask them for some specific solutions and action plans. If the problem is deep-rooted you may have to have some conflict-resolution sessions to specifically deal with the problem. In those sessions, have each department share what they see that the other departments need to stop, start and continue doing to improve the situation.

Look at what you are rewarding. Are you rewarding individual performance at the cost of plant performance? Both are important, but you must ensure that everyone has an equal, or greater, incentive to work together than alone. Make sure you have very clear plant goals, along with action plans to achieve them. Set up some specific activities and strategies that require departments to work together.

Monitor. Just like any other initiative, people will only pay attention to it if the boss monitors it. Deep-seeded silos do not go away overnight. Watch for changes in cross-department teamwork consistently. Old habits die hard so you must pay attention.

Silos are a natural part of organizations. People strive to accomplish their individual goals, as they should. A good leader is one that ensures that all departments work together as a team. If you do that, everyone benefits.