Breaking out of silo working

silo - sA few months ago I was invited to speak at a conference on “creating cultural change”. I wanted to say something practical, something attendees could apply back in the office, so I talked about “silos” – that generic term we use when departments and teams don’t collaborate or communicate properly with each other.

Why? Because in almost every organisation I’ve worked with, when people say the word Culture, one of the first issues on the table is Communication and the term “Working in Silos” comes hot on its heels. It’s a term that seems as perennial as it is pervasive across most large organisations, and it’s one of the biggest barriers to collaboration, innovation and organisational performance.

Fundamentally, silos are anathema to good communication, which is ironic, because the first rule for breaking down silos is you don’t talk about silos.

The word “silo” is a metaphor – silos aren’t real. When we talk about silos, what we’re actually talking about are specific, dysfunctional relationships between specific groups of people. We generalise with “silo” to depersonalise it. To make it about “them”, rather than about “me”. But that is precisely why “silos” don’t get fixed.

You can’t fix something that isn’t real. What you can do is build strong, functional relationships between teams… If you really want to… But you have to really want to. Because it’s you that has to take the lead.

Why you? Because there are three beliefs that stop us fixing dysfunctional relationships:

  1. “It’s them, not me”
  2. “They won’t change”
  3. “It’s not for me to make the first move”

As long as people (and by that, I mean you) are limited by those beliefs, the word Silo will continue to cast a shadow across every conversation about your organisation’s culture.

At the conference I talked about how to dismantle those beliefs and gave examples of how to shift individual relationships. But the starting point is this: They’re your relationships. You need them to work. So you need to fix them. That might sound unfair – you might, quite rightly, be thinking that there are two sides to this, and “they” need to step up too. But the reality is that someone needs to take the lead, book the room, find a facilitator, print out the feedback forms or whatever it is you decide to do.

And yes, that someone needs to be you.

Bottom Line:  Bemoaning the fact you’re “working in silos” is comfy and convenient, but it isn’t helpful. It takes the conversation away from those specific, dysfunctional relationships, of which you are a part, and which you can directly influence.

Put those three limiting beliefs to one side, take the lead, and commit to fixing those relationships one at a time. You’ll soon find your “silos” vanishing like shadows in the sun.

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