Cross-silo leadership

By Toye Sobande

SILOS are the nightmare of every leader whose goal is to align members of their organisation to the visions of their companies. As a leader, breaking silo barriers should be one of your primary goals, one that is unending if you continue to steer the ship. Your success in this will influence the long-term success of your company and there is no better time to start than now. So, what are the effects of silos formation in any organisation?

The dearth of communication. The growth and overall success of any organisation is hinged on certain factors, with communication taking a top spot. The perfect illustration to depict the importance of communication is the network of pipes that supply water to a building. The information (water) is contained in the overhead tank and needs to be distributed to various parts of the house for use.

There is a major pipe that allows the free flow of water from the tank to other pipes that supplies water to the building. When the major pipe is broken, there will be a disruption in the flow of water which will affect the entire water supply (information channels). So, when cross-silos are lacking, whether consciously or not, they cause a break in the communication chain in any workplace. Some sectors of the company will be left in the lurch and starved of vital information that they need to function efficiently, thereby affecting the overall productivity of the employees.

Power tussles. With each arm of the organisation blinded by the silo barrier and trying to outsmart other sectors, unhealthy rivalry is bound to occur. This will further create resentment among employees and power tussles become the daily norm. It becomes an “every team for itself” situation rather than “we are working as a body” situation. The workplace becomes tense, toxic, and competitive in an unhealthy way, and this, apparently, never augurs well for the growth of any organisation.

The workplace is not an arena for hierarchical display of power and authority to intimidate others but a place where ideas are conceived, executed and shared; a place where intelligent conversations take place for a common mission. When silo formations are not demolished and cross-silos installed on time, they can disrupt the company’s vision, derail its focus, and threaten its very existence.

Delayed decisions. When a company is entangled in a silo formation, informed decisions cannot be made because every department is working at a haphazard pace. It becomes a tussle to foster shared commitment because everyone is only trying to safeguard their own interest. Worse still, an organisation that lacks cross-silo leadership tends to lack coordination or unified metrics to measure growth.

While some departments are achieving milestone feats because they have instant and unrestricted access to beneficial information and resources, others are lagging because they had been sidelined and starved of the knowledge, intelligence, or tools that they need to thrive.

While it may seem that a team is winning and making the company proud, the bitter truth is that this reality is positioning other uniformed sectors as weak links. Hence, the company cannot make on-the-spot decisions and maximise opportunities in a marketplace that’s in a constant state of flux. There will be a delay in spontaneity, innovation will be lopsided, and this can stall the company’s growth in no time.

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

Once the effects of silo-barriers are identified, the next step is to break them and focus on building pathways that supply unrestricted flow of beneficial information and resources that enhance the company’s productivity and growth. So, here are the ways that leaders can create and maintain effective communication, break down silos, and create formidable cross-silos within their organisations:

  • Identify all silo barriers: This is the first step to breaking every silo-inspired work environment. In trying to identify the elephant in the room, the first place to look is the management team because most times, inefficiencies and flawed culture trickle from the top. When the leadership team does not demonstrate a shared vision, it causes a ripple effect by spreading to every sector of the workplace and causing loopholes that may cost the company.
  • So, by first identifying how these silos come to play, it becomes easy for leaders to make strategic adjustments to disrupt the silo system and effect sweeping or straightforward changes that will promote a thriving workplace relationship. When these measures are put in place, the organization is guaranteed of a smooth running and lesser division within.
  • Communicate the company’s vision and culture repeatedly: When employees are not in sync with the company’s vision, they forget the purpose of teamwork and the importance of the company’s unifying culture. Every progress-oriented leader has to share the company’s culture relentlessly until it becomes ingrained in the daily habits of every staff. Once the unifying purpose of the organisation has been clearly spelt out, it guides the dealings of the employees moving forward.
  • This gives everyone a paradigm shift and fresh perspective to see the critical positions they occupy as individuals and as a team, and how their actions affect the overall workplace performance. Most importantly, it will reinforce the message that an arm of the organisation cannot grow the company alone; it requires the active and unified contribution of every sector.
  • Promote collaborative tools: Tools such as Slack, Asana, Google Keep, GoToMeeting, Trello and a lot more are highly recommended for breaking organisation silos and ensuring horizontal communication across every arm of the workplace. These tools foster cooperation, smooth spread of ideas, and everyone is kept in the loop of the various activities going on in every sector of the organization. This way, the company’s culture is preserved, and more bonding occurs among members of the different teams that make up the company.

Create cross-silo activities: Another effective way to bring teams together under across-silo culture is to create activities that require interaction, contribution, collaboration, and active involvement of every member of the organization. These cross-silo activities could also take the form of forming clusters that extend beyond members of the same team. When communication is not a barrier, silos are easily broken down and the workplace becomes a friendlier atmosphere to work in.

Lunch meetings, special treats, team retreats, hangouts, and other fun activities that relieve the tension in the workplace should be introduced to encourage cross-silo behaviour across the organization. Encourage leadership participation: sometimes, silo formation starts from the leadership team. When leaders exhibit a silo mentality, it is mirrored in the people they lead. Because modelling is one of the fastest ways to learn anything, leaders at the workplace should be conscious of their activities, values, body language, and interaction with team members to avoid passing down the wrong message or values.

Therefore, the mindset shift and cross-silo formation should be a top-bottom exercise. Leaders need to take cross-silo culture seriously and pledge their commitment for it to work. When leaders are actively involved in collaborative activities to put every sector of the workplace in sync, it becomes easy for team members to follow suit. Through leadership participation, team members are inspired to collaborate with other team members and share beneficial information that will enhance overall productivity and foster progress within the organization.

Following the above measures, I believe, an improved, cross-silo environment and effective communication channels can be built. Lack of cross-silo leadership is why many organizations don’t survive or innovate or do so fast enough. Just like the CEO of Pinnacle Advertising, if you are seeking to stay ahead of the curve as a leader in the 21st century, then creating a formidable cross-silo culture is not only a matter of strategy but also that of life and death.

Sobande, a Lawyer and Leadership Consultant is also a Doctoral Candidate at Regent University, Virginia Beach, USA

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