Breaking Up Work Silos is Hard to Do – Five Tips to Stop It

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Breaking down Silos in companies today is critical to their overall success and the bottom-line. When a corporation’s productivity suffers because of inter-departmental competition, no one benefits. There is an actual term for this, called the “Silo Mentality”, and it affects most organizations. These silos are negatively impacting relationships, performance and overall team and company goals.

The “inside game” becomes how to compete by “out-doing” other teams or departments which leads to a lot of time spent on how to disrupt and sabotage another person’s work. This shows up in a myriad of ways including not sharing critical information in a timely manner, not helping someone in need, or sharing resources or skills to get the job done. I’ve seen this happen many times consulting inside various companies and I hear the same comments over and over; “well if “they” would share with us, we would share with them, or they’re getting special treatment, or we would help if they would help.” The “Us vs Them” attitude are just a few of the common “pointing of the fingers” that ultimately derails a team’s success, and in turn directly impacts the company’s success. Once teams are made aware of this poor behavior and the fact they all work for the same company, is usually the first step to turning it around.

As we look more closely at the root causes, most of the time, the culture has been set by the tone and behaviors of leadership. If the top tier of the organization is operating this way, then the trickledown effect is quick and severe. The managers and employees follow creating a harshly competitive work environment that is unhealthy and de-energizing. Uber is an example of how bad leadership can create a negative and siloed environment. What’s unbelievable is how long the situation went on before it was called out. Now the organization is in the process of a complete re-boot. This is an example of silos gone too far.

The good news is that most companies can see this behavior before it leads to failure. Here are a few key questions to ask:

1. Are teams working collaboratively together to meet goals on time?

2. Is there a lot of bad mouthing or gossip going on in your company?

3. Are employees consistently complaining about management or leadership?

4. Are the leaders or managers aligned on the company goals?

5. Is there too much information hoarding or lack of communicating across teams?

It’s amazing how quickly the work environment can change once employees are able to clearly see how their negative behavior is affecting their coworkers. When they fully understand their consequences of sabotaging another employee or competing to the detriment of the company culture, they will be more likely to choose a productive behavior next time. It’s all about awareness and accountability. Are you gossiping or holding back info, then you are ultimately hurting yourself and your credibility? So, take a pause and make a smarter choice about how you want to be seen. Choose to be part of creating a more positive work environment.

Here are a few tips to help break up the silos:

  • Ensure leadership is aligned on goals and communicates to their teams at the same time
  • Make clear benchmarks for team success and identify specific tasks and objectives so each person understands their part
  • Reach out to HR or an outside source to help facilitate communication between the silos
  • Schedule regular cross-functional team meetings with a clear agenda and the intention to hold each team member accountable against their assigned task
  • Create a buddy system from different silos to start to repair relationships and keep the flow of communication open

When team members feel that the person working next to them is working for the same company and for the same larger team, they’re more likely to support, encourage and help them. They’re more likely to build upon these tips and begin to develop better working relationships with people from other departments or teams, and lastly, they’re more likely to choose not to sabotage or compete in a way that could be damaging to the company. Imagine if each employee started thinking about their co-workers in this way – a powerful difference it would make.

About the Author: Michelle Burke is a Communication, Workplace and Team Strategist, published Author and Speaker. She is Founder and President of The Energy Catalyst Group dedicated to creating more positive teams and engaged workplaces. Her years’ experience working with Fortune 100, 500 companies, established her as a leading expert in bridging communication, gender and cultural gaps. Michelle consults with HR and leadership to focus on increasing individual, team and organizational energy. She collaborates with clients using her 3-A Model: Awareness, Accountability and (purposeful) Action and Energy Impact Model™. Clients include Stanford University, Visa, Disney, Receptos, Genentech, Sony PlayStation and Snapchat. Michelle authored, The Valuable Office Professional, and was featured in Business Week’s Frontier Magazine, LA Times, SF Chronicle, and Wall Street Journal. Her articles have been in Training, HR, and Chief Learning Officer Magazines. She also co-created Personalogy®, Amazon’s Top 100 Best Selling Card Games of 2015. Please connect with her