A cure for 'siloitis'

Silo mentality is the biggest problem existing in most organistations, writes Phil Preston. Eliminating it could make a significant difference in 2012.

If I had to name and shame the biggest problem that exists in most organisations, it is the old favourite: silo mentality. It is hard to quantify, but if it could be the difference between below and above-average margins or levels of service delivery.

How much is it costing you?

This is the first in a series I’m running over the next few weeks to shape your planning for 2012. It's designed to prompt your thinking about what might you need to do early in the new year in order to break down the silos in your organisation.

As a customer, if you’ve been shunted from one department to another when trying to resolve an issue with the product you bought, you’ve fallen prey to the organisational disease known as ‘siloitis’. Don’t you love it when you get the ‘not my problem’ attitude from the customer service representative?

When you think about it, especially for larger organisations, there are so many moving parts that it is a challenge to keep up with every internal relationship let alone the external ones. If the KPIs of one area conflict with another, then you’re destined for a bust up somewhere, sometime.

The issue at stake is often alignment. Does the organisation have a clear goal or mission and does everyone understand what his or her contribution is in the pursuit of that goal? If the goal is not clear then correcting it is the first task, but this may be too grandiose for larger firms.

To break through this problem, the InterContinental Hotels group made internal collaboration a core strategic priority as a way of improving its global systems and infrastructure.

A financial institution I’ve worked with used an internal education forum to identify the issues that were preventing a product from getting to market. By presenting independent ideas in a non-threatening way, the discussion opened up and flowed quite easily.

At the individual employee level, if there is behaviour that lacks alignment with the organisation’s goals then it needs to be resolved – for better or for worse – promptly. It’s hard to accelerate with the handbrake on.

In a management sense, ‘siloitis’ costs time, energy and money. It devalues the perceptions of brand and stifles innovation and productivity. Second order effects include unhealthy employee turnover and an inward rather than outward focus.

With that in mind, this exercise is worthwhile:

  • List all the projects and initiatives you expected to deliver in 2011
  • How many did you fail to achieve?
  • How many related to bottlenecks or barriers in other areas?
  • In your estimation, why did they occur and what did they cost?
  • What could you do to open up the discussion about the problem?

If this is relevant to you and your organisation, your challenge for 2012 is to have more ‘conversations’ about the issues that occur. Quite often it is useful to frame the conversation in the context of the bigger picture outcomes and bringing together a cross-sectional team to participate.

Phil Preston is an independent practitioner who specialises in performance improvement through transformational change. He can be contacted on phil@philpreston.co.

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