I was at a family function over the weekend and chatting to my cousin who is a free-lance writer and editor. She was recently asked to do a job for a large government department that was in her words, an extraordinary experience.
The job was essentially a consulting role on how to write a workbook linked to a theoretical text to enable self-learning. The department (within the larger department) was one of more than 20 departments all doing the same thing within their ‘subject matter expertise’. Upon being briefed about the job and establishing time lines and agreeing costs, she went away and began to research the task. When she realised that most of the other ‘departments’ had already written many ‘workbooks’ and that collectively there was an abundance of expertise in the organisation, she called her sponsor and asked why they were not seeking to save time and money by utilising existing people and expertise?
The response from her sponsor was “haven’t you heard of silo’s? thats how things work around here”,
This is not an isolated case and unfortunately ‘silo’s, disparate groups and lack of cohesion are on the increase within organisations – even small organisations. Why?
Busyness or more aptly overwhelm and overload which leads to avoidance behaviours, are on the rise both within organisations and more generally. People have become adept at rationalising and justifying why they avoid things, and why so often they fail to take the most efficient pathway with performing tasks. This is primarily because the more efficient pathway will more often than not involve collaborating with other people, as was the case with my cousins experience. So why is this so challenging?
Sadly it is because a further fallout of busyness and overload is decision paralysis. This leads people to think ‘if I involve ‘x’ from another department that means the time frame to get this thing done will blow out because they will prioritise all of ‘their demanding tasks first’. And so it goes around. Silo’s have not become pandemic due to intentions of people to isolate themselves into their ‘own manageable department’ – far from it. Ask anyone and they will lament the existence of silo’s, yet at the same time uphold them.
What is the solution? A radical overhaul of internal communications within businesses with a return of power to team leaders. Additionally, visibility of what is transpiring within teams with operational managers who are responsible for efficiency of the collective teams output in meeting business objectives. Such a system means information is collected by teams from the customer interface, fed upstream by team leaders and then directions for responses fed back down from operational leaders who have visibility across all teams thereby creating a feedback loop.Such a system by default removes silo’s and moreover removes the reason they exist.
Moreover such communications systems also exist yet ironically silo’s are stalling their widespread use.