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Breaking Down Silos

By Ben Baker

July 9, 2021

“Silos will continue to be inevitable as long as the rewards for collaboration are outweighed by the rewards for competition.”

—Pearl Zhu

width=300Companies large and small need to realize that one of the biggest impediments to their eventual success is silos within their organization. Many people’s desire to focus on internal stature and hierarchy within companies leads to decisions that benefit the few, frustrate the many, and alienate clientele.

So, if this is the case, why do silos exist? Why are structures put in place, formally or informally, that pit one department against the other, creating frustration and mistrust? Why do we allow and enable internal competition and fiefdom building to occur when we know that it is terrible for morale and hurts our customers?

For manufacturers, this siloing can lead to a series of inefficiencies:

  • Operations not communicating effectively with sales can lead to sales making promises to clients that the operations cannot fulfill and vice versa.
  • Accounting not telling the sales department that they have put a customer on credit hold can create unnecessary frustration and lost clients instead of effectively managed and resolved situations.
  • Sales not communicating needs with marketing can lead marketing to spend time and effort developing campaigns that are tone-deaf to clients’ needs.
  • Shipping not letting sales know that a truck broke down and a critical shipment to a client will be late does not allow sales to work with the client and fix it.

Companies and staffs need to be aware of the danger of ineffective communication. Being hyperfocused on your department’s tasks, and not on how your actions affect others and the organization, positions you as a commodity supplier—easily replaced and forgotten.

The reasons for all of this are both simple and complex. The simple reason is that human nature and corporate structures exist to encourage competition and zero-sum-game mentalities. The argument can go something like this: “If my piece of the budget is bigger, naturally yours must be smaller, and that makes what I do far more important than what you do.” The

more complex answer has to do with the fact that organizations desire to maximize efficiencies through labor distribution. Still, those efficiencies are squandered when departmental infighting leads to situations in which the need to be right trumps interdepartmental cooperation to the end client’s detriment.

No client cares about internal politics, power structures, status, or budgets. What they care about is having their problem solved, and silos within

organizations impede this. They force the customer to navigate internal structures and politics that they do not understand in order to have their solved. You can only imagine how frustrating that must be until you have been on the receiving end of this in another organization. Claims of internal bureaucracy, “not my department,” and the like only make those who pay the bills (the customer) start looking for another more straightforward solution for them to navigate.

Now, before you start thinking that silos are the curse of only large organizations, think again. An organization can be two people and siloed. It has very little to do with head count and everything to do with internal structures, culture, and communication.

So what do we do to solve this problem? The first thing to do is to look and see what is causing the silos to form in the first place.

How are people compensated? Are specific departments treated differently from others? How companies allocate bonuses, perks, access to education, seminars, or conferences creates mistrust, ill feelings, and even outright resentment.

Are all departments represented equally in the boardroom? Do specific departments like HR and marketing fall under the chief financial officer’s auspices, and are their budgets delivered to them without their ability to advocate for what they genuinely need? While others have an equal and fair seat at the table when it comes to developing budget priorities?

Is there effective communication throughout the organization? Does each department understand what other departments do within the organization, their priorities, and what frustrates them because of the unintended actions thrust upon them by other departments?

Organizations need to understand that frustration, mistrust, and ill will can cost them thousands, if not millions, due to inefficiencies. They also need to realize how their siloed mentality affects their customers and creates opportunities for them to look for solutions partners elsewhere.

width=102Ben Baker is the president and CEO of Your Brand Marketing, an employee engagement consultancy designed to help you communicate your brand’s value effectively inside your organization. He is the author of two books: Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-On Guide to Understanding Yours (2018) and Leading Beyond a Crisis: A Conversation About What’s Next (2020). He also hosts the iHeartRadio- and Spotify-syndicated Show, with more than 265 episodes.