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Cross-silo leadership: How to create effective leadership communication in an organisation

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communication in an organisation

By Toye Sobande

PINNACLE Advertising is known to be one of the leading advertising firms in Lagos State, Nigeria.

A company that prides itself in its state-of-the-art, skyscraper office complex that casts its large, intimidating shadow down the ever-busy streets of Lagos.

With a 13-floor storey building that houses talents with impeccable work ethics and a portfolio of satisfied clients, a typical day finds an army of serious-looking persons trooping in and out of the large building.

Since its inception eleven years ago, Pinnacle, or PA like its fondly called, has not only become the envy of other advertising firms but a place where every fresh, ambitious job-seeker wants to get their feet in the door and crest on their CVs.

While the company is being admired by all and sundry, Chinelo Adams, the new CEO, is trying so hard to contain her worries about the silo culture that is already brewing in the company.

Despite the noticeable growth that they have experienced in the past, she is fully convinced that more can be achieved if she breaks the silo barrier of the old culture – one that is beginning to create a stark divide between the various departments in the company.

Rather than working together to achieve the shared, unifying goals of the organisation, each department is acting solo and trying to outsmart the other so that the management will recognise their respective signature.

As she reclines in her large office, looking through the glass wall to the skylines of Lagos city, she knows something has to be done to salvage the impending disaster that is looming, threatening to rip her company apart if she doesn’t figure out a way, fast!

A workplace or organisation is like a ship, sailing towards a destination that has been communicated to those onboard. Although all the occupants may not know how to get there, they trust the crew of the ship, spearheaded by the captain, to navigate them through the seas and storms to the target destination.

While this might come off as a simplistic way of describing an organisation, its essence is certainly not lost in the use of such a metaphor. While the helmsman is steering the wheel and watching out for any storm that might threaten the smooth sail, other crew members are doing their duties diligently in their various corners to ensure that everything stays on course.

They do not have to be the captain before they can render excellent services, but they, alongside the captain, are bound by a shared goal – to dock safely and give the ship occupants a thrilling and safe experience.

So, if there is need for extra hands in the deck, probably due to some unforeseen circumstances, and there are crew members from other departments whose hands are not full, they show up to help, not minding that the deck is not their assigned department.

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This is a perfect example of cross-silo interaction and it is aimed at facilitating the overall success of an organisation (ship) rather than focusing on individualistic departmental success. Cross-silo leadership is about building shared support and interface within a board system; it is about enabling collaboration, cross-pollination of ideas, and mutual growth.

Every workplace consists of various departments with specific duties that contribute to its overall growth. However, each department is not meant to function as an isolated entity; there should be a culture of interwoven workspace relationship that cuts across every facet of the organisation to create work synergy and unity.

While silo culture is about raising individual or departmental champions, cross-silo culture is about democratising excellence and making sure everyone is carried along and victory is more of a shared commitment.

This combined productivity – which is the hallmark of every cross-silo leadership – cannot happen if there is no deliberate effort from leadership to break every silo barrier that may run within the organisation.

Silo barriers occur when the various arms that make up an establishment isolate themselves and focus on their unit growth rather than the overall growth of the system; where each sector of a workplace hoards information and seldom interacts with members of other departments.

This silo barrier is not built in a day; it is often as a result of accumulated isolation traits that have been left unchecked over time by the leadership. These traits are further transferred by existing employees to new additions and cemented through layer-upon-layer modelling.

When a department of a workplace is not concerned about the activities or growth of the other departments, this creates or reinforces a silo barrier. Suffice to say that the occurrence of silos is the beginning of unwarranted boundaries and closed communication that ultimately affects the smooth running of any organisation.

Each sector of the workplace now becomes an island of knowledge with limited collaboration, leading to a dearth of communication.

It is pertinent for leaders to note that your business competitors are observing and anticipating your every move. Any hesitation or inability to respond appropriately may change the dynamics of your market share and before they know it, the competition has taken over the top spot.

Sobande, a lawyer and leadership consultant, is a Doctoral candidate at Regent University, Virginia Beach, USA.


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