Collaboration Kills Silos
When I hear the word “silo”, I often think of the word “change”. “Change” is a strong word that’s often used incorrectly, when what we’re really trying to do is “shift”. “Breaking down silos” is also a strong phrase that implies a great effort is involved. However, in my experience, it’s simply a matter of shifting our thinking away from silos and toward applying some simple adjustments that can deliver significant benefits. If we do this correctly, silos will disappear!
I believe we must give less value to the word “silo” and more value to the word “collaboration”. However, it’s critical to analyze and understand the symptoms and root causes of silos so we can avoid them. Too often, companies apply initiatives to eliminate silos by implementing unnecessary reviews, processes, structural changes, and/or complexity, not considering each department/function has a job that is vital to success. Equally vital to the success of a business are handoffs that are transparent and seamless.
Business and Sports
Imagine you’re at a hockey game, and each time the visiting team makes it past the home team’s offense, the offensive players simply stand there and do nothing. Or, imagine the defensive players on the home team get possession of the puck, pass it to the offense, and then stop playing as if their job is completed. That may seem unrealistic in a sporting event, but it happens in business very often.
Winners and Losers
Silos manifest themselves in many forms and are caused by many things. If you take a high-level view of your company and your current goals, you may be surprised to learn your goals, metrics, and actions are actually creating silos.
- Who wins if the sales team generates new clients and the design team develops a solid product, but the manufacturing team is unable to build it because the cost is too high?
- Who wins if customer concerns are never sent to the service team to help them improve, or to the design team to help them make a better product?
Who wins and who loses? The customer loses, the employees lose, and ultimately, the business loses. It’s not uncommon to see one team celebrating meeting their business goals, while the business itself is failing to meet its overall goals.
When examining this problem, ask yourself: “Is it the silo?” “Is it the handoff?” “Is it something else?”
Simple collaboration can dramatically improve these issues. Below is a process I developed to address silos. The phases are: Learning, Sharing, Solving, and Sustaining.
As is often the case, one business group has no idea what the other business group is doing. This lack of awareness causes one group to make assumptions about the other group. Often these assumptions are negative, which facilitates silos. To address this, the Learning phase creates cross-functional sessions in which each group gives a brief presentation on what it is they actually do. Included in this presentation is the sharing of problems they face and concerns they have.
During this phase, it’s also important to engage with the customer, if possible. Often groups are not aware of what is really important to the customer, and why. In addition, handoff issues tend to impact the customer greatly, so it’s very important that this knowledge is conveyed. Bringing groups together to better understand the needs of the customer facilitates productive discussions and collaboration.
The Learning phase is also a good time to map the handoff process for each group. Mapping the handoff process sets the stage for effective problem solving and improvement. Value Stream Mapping is a great tool for this purpose.
Typically, group data, such as customer concerns, quality issues, operations issues, etc., is shared within a group only, and not among groups. Sharing allows cross-functional teams to share their data with each other in a timely fashion.
It’s amazing what arises out of these sessions. This is where collaboration really takes off and ideas begin to flow that benefit everyone involved. In addition, this is a great time to assess what the business does really well during handoffs between groups. A simple, yet effective tool for this purpose is the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis.
It’s critical to develop a process for prioritizing issues raised during these sessions. No doubt, there will be several issues that arise. However, it’s not practical to tackle them all at once, and often it’s not possible. Instead, develop a risk/impact process to prioritize the key issues. There are several Risk and Input/Output matrixes that can be used for this purpose.
Although it’s important that cross-functional teams are assigned to address problems, it’s also important to ensure a consistent problem-solving approach is implemented and teams have cross-functional representation. It’s also a good idea to develop an emergency-action cross-functional team that’s called upon when issues arise between groups. This helps set the stage for problem solving.
In this phase, we reward cross-functional support. Ask yourself: “Have you ever rewarded someone because the handoff from one group to another group was handled effectively?”
Setting shared goals is vital to sustaining success, but it goes beyond that. Developing and monitoring handoff metrics between groups is also critical for success.
The next time you find yourself thinking about eliminating silos, remember the power of collaboration. I hope the steps outlined above will help you kill silos with the best weapon: collaboration.