David Chou, Chief Information & Digital Officer, Children's Mercy Hospita
The Silo Mentality is defined as “mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company,” per the Business Dictionary. Like physical silos, silos in business refer to the way information is housed and stored. In agriculture, it’s important to keep different grains separated and protected. In business, it’s not so beneficial. While each department may have its own responsibilities and accountability to the business, the information needs to flow freely between teams to allow employees to reply in voice, no matter where they are in the company.
Common Issues with Silo Mentality
Theoretically, silos are needed in business to give each team a focus. Silos provide structure and promote individuality. Without the silo mentality, silos can work to give responsibility to each team and person, while presenting a unified front to outsiders.
When the mentality turns to competition between silos, it harms the business because teams cannot make good decisions for the company as a whole. However, according to the white paper, “Why silos damage customer experience,” “silo mentality is the biggest organizational hurdle to improving the customer experience.” Turf wars are generally the result, with each department holding tightly to its information and competing with each other. This inward focus destroys businesses.
"The leadership has to unify their vision, create a strategy and be consistent in communication to break down the silos"
When departments within a company don’t work together, it creates these problems:
• No collaboration
When marketing is making a push to bring in more customers, the call center must be prepared to respond to the increase in inquiries. Proper communication between these two silos would have greatly benefitted the company.
• Communication channels are disjointed
Imagine being a customer and having to explain your issue time and time again to find the right solution. This is what occurs when silos aren’t collaborating. Not only does this make your business seem unorganized, it also gives the impression that your team is apathetic and has no concern for the customer.
• A negative customer experience
Silos only exacerbate the difficulties of providing a good customer experience. In the white paper mentioned above, 41 percent of the professionals believed that organizational structure is a significant barrier to providing a positive customer experience. It’s estimated that about 70 percent of companies do not have integrated channels to be able to speak to customers in one voice through multiple departments.
Solving the Silo Mentality Problem
No matter how many team-building activities a company has, without taking care of the silo mentality, the interdepartmental turf wars will not end. Typically, problems between departments are much more than a lack of training or the ability of employees to “play nicely” with each other. These attitudes are often just symptoms of the problem. Employees who are not at a management level within the organization may recognize a serious issue, but do not have the clout or responsibility to make changes.
To solve the silo mentality, your business has to look at the root causes. Most commonly, the reason behind silo mentality is the leadership team. It’s the leadership team that is conflicted and sending mixed messages. Once management realizes that they are the problem, things can change. Senior management have the power to redirect the business hierarchy and incentivize collaboration.
1. The leadership has to unify their vision, create a strategy and be consistent in communication to break down the silos. It may take time to break down the barriers that have been built over the years, but this type of change cannot start from the ground up. It has to trickle down from the top. The best rowing teams do not win because the rowers are strong, but because they have a good leader keeping them focused and on course.
2. Leaders have to be focused on the goals. Once the management team has the vision, each silo can create goals that can worked toward to be more transparent. Individual team members need to understand how they impact the goal and how they can be more interconnected with the rest of the team.
3. Team leaders have to help keep team members motivated and inspired to reach their goals. Rewarding collaboration between teams breaks down the silo mentality because employees do not feel as if they have to protect their turf. Leaders have to avoid the “it’s not my job” mentality and encourage input and team work.
4. The business hierarchy may have to be considered. Flatter organizational structures allow team members to take charge of their individual responsibilities and collaborate with more people.
5. Senior management has to be connected to the day-to-day working of the business. They need spend time in the lower ranks actually working on the shop floor. Senior level managers could also pretend to be customers attempting to get information through communication channels. Even if senior management worked up through the ranks, as technology and customers change, the way things are done will need to be taken into account.
Today’s businesses have to be more transparent and cross-functional. Employees who are frustrated with the silo mentality are not productive and effective. Your company wastes valuable resources in dealing with office politics and turf wars that could be spent growing and expanding your operations for the benefit of everyone.
A unified leadership team empowers the team members and encourages trust between departments. The business moves out of a “my department” mentality into “our business” mentality. This builds a strong business that will last for generations on a strong foundation.
Courtney Fisher-Lewis, Associate CIO, Saint Luke’s Health System & Ex-Sr. Director, IS Program Management, Children’s Mercy Hospital David Chou, SVP & CIO, Harris Health System & Ex-Chief Information & Digital Officer, Children’s Mercy Hospital