“Silo Mentality” was ranked at the number one organizational issue at 70% by teams trying to improve the customer experience.
Here’s a Silo Inferno. Product team: “I am waiting for IT analysis; anyway, they are usually slow and don’t get it the first time”. IT team: “These specifications are not clear, we will again need various meetings, and it was not my priority in our sprint”.
These situations are frustrating. It seems like the teams are not able to talk to each other properly, bouncing the problems from one side to another. During that time, the customers wait for improvements or switch to a competitor.
We can wonder what the causes of such problems are, and how to structurally improve the situation. Organizational design is necessary but is not a reason to create a silo inferno. It requires continuous action from the management.
This article shares the analysis and actions you can take to win the fight against the silo inferno in your organization:
- Silos become necessary at some point
- First, identify the flow beyond the silos
- Take short-term actions across the silos
- Identify mid-term changes to equilibrate the silos
- As a result, develop a culture against the silo inferno
- Silos don’t disappear, but you can avoid the silo inferno
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Silos become necessary at some point
The first point in solving a problem is understanding its nature. In our case, organizational silos are necessary at some point. Hence, we cannot solve the problem just by removing silos; we need to understand their contextual necessity.
The cognitive load of a human is limited. We can handle a specific number of activities and interact with about 150 people in our entire network. Additionally, companies need to structure the company at some point for productivity combining various factors.
By design, silos are not evil; they even bring clarity in the roles and responsibilities. You quickly understand who is doing what by seeing sales, finance, operations and other organizational groups. The issues are mainly due to the actors’ behaviour.
Humans by nature, will optimize their known perimeter inside their comfort zone. This is inherited from our ancestors for survival. Contextual elements can create real infernos with political culture or enforcement of local decision-making.
In the end, you need to act in the company’s best interests and its stakeholders against this organizational debt. The first step is to clarify the critical flows within the organization.
First, identify the flow beyond the silos
A flow is “a steady, continuous stream or supply of something”. In our case, the flows materialize the capability of an organization to improve the user experience through fast test & learn cycles. These feedback loops are vital for Quality at Speed.
You can identify organizational flows starting from the customer experience. Their needs are entry points in your platform to then execute supporting processes and activities. Value-stream mapping then enables to map out each flow.
Your flow map then needs prioritization. First, you can validate which streams are most important from a customer point of view. Then, you can prioritize the implementation using a gap analysis, focusing on the most valuable first.
For each flow, you will need to identify the bottlenecks in the flow of information. Various reasons are possible: silo inferno with waiting time, lack of resources or skills in a centralized team, lack of automation.
Take short-term actions across the silos
As a leader, your role is to share a compelling vision, explicit milestones, and do what’s needed for your company’s success. You can start fighting the silo inferno by taking transversal actions out of your comfort zone.
You need to work incrementally based on the priorities to reach the Tipping Point. The involvement of the stakeholders of the previous phases is a key requirement. You will hardly change part of the organization alone, even with a great title.
Silos infernos usually create waiting time for each activity. This waste is very costly to organizations in search of delivering Quality at Speed. It is like each software change has to pass through a toll, waiting hours even for a single line of code change.
You can improve some flows by taking localized actions in the short term. But proactive changes are necessary to structurally improve your organizational performance in the mid and long term.
Identify mid-term changes to equilibrate the silos
Your analysis of the flows and issues gives you a good sense of the structural problems. You need to make more profound changes to the system to unlock more flows at the same time. You don’t have time to take them one by one.
One powerful way to channel the actor’s action is with a shared mission. It requires that you align a clear vision, mission and values within your scope of responsibility. Hopefully, the statement of your company is already available. From there, you can translate the purpose’s meaning in your perimeter.
The second structuring element of flows is the silos in themselves. They directly drive the actors’ behaviour and their interactions with the other teams. You need to decide if a silo optimized for resources should not be streamlined in a flow mode. You can even change a silo in terms of leadership, scope or activities.
Lastly, you can develop a continuous counter-force against silos through transversal interactions. You can achieve that formally with formalized communities of practices, talks, projects. Informally, you can rely on company events, sharings and gatherings.
As a result, develop a culture against the silo inferno
Fighting against the silo inferno is a continuous fight. The approach we shared is valid at a particular point in time, but your plan needs a constant adaptation to the changing environment. Hence the need for a structural and incremental approach.
We cover in the first part that silos are necessary and that we cannot get rid of them. But we can still solve this problem structurally by creating an organizational capability against the silos. This is your company culture.
Culture creates shared codes and habits in specific situations. In the case of silo inferno, a powerful culture will systematically act with the customer in mind, improving the flows and getting out of their comfort zone.
An investment in your company culture is the way to enable the different teams to fight the silos themselves in the first line. Your job is to continuously anticipate and design valuable silos for flows while maintaining this anti-silo culture alive.
Silos don’t disappear, but you can avoid the silo inferno
Silos are necessary. You have the power to act at different layers and timings to structurally change the ecosystem over time. Building a capability does not happen overnight. It is the result of a continuous effort that resulted.
In the short term, you need to be on the field with your team, remove roadblocks, to show the example of what it means to go out of the silos. In the mid-term, your main priorities are to ensure a good organizational design and foster the culture.
Your culture is what allows you to win the fight against the silo inferno. Silos will continue to exist, but your counter forces are much stronger, enabling you to thrive with fast flows of Quality at Speed.
So, what’s your exit plan for your silo inferno?