One of the top reasons organizations seek out an intranet solution is to help them address the silo mentality. Silos are problematic for many reasons. They damage employee experience, erode workplace culture, productivity, and hamper the execution of organizational goals.
Ever worked in the same physical office and wondered what the heck another department across the hall or on the floor above you does? What about working in one regional office and unaware that a team at a second local office was working on a very similar project but only finding out near the finish line. Ever been nervous about approaching a team member in another department for project help because you have never interacted with them before?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you have experienced workplace silos.
Workplace silos are “a part of a company, organization, or system that does not communicate with, understand, or work well with other parts” (Cambridge Dictionary). Silos can occur based on three weak variables: communication, understanding, and degree of teamwork (CUT).
How do managers and employees move forward if silos have taken over in the workplace? Let’s start with the basics. Here’s how to identify and evaluate whether your organization or team makes the CUT.
The presence of silos may cause statements that demonstrate confusion, frustration, or impatience towards the organization or other departments. Listen for verbal hints or observable written clues.
Comments like, “I didn’t know that,” “since when?”, “why didn’t anyone tell us,” “that’s not important to me,”; each suggests a communications gap. Phrases such as, “I don’t know what he or she does” or “who do I go to for that,” or “I don’t get it” and “why does this matter” indicate opportunities to improve cross-departmental or organizational understanding.
When an accounting department employee comments that their colleague in sales hasn’t replied to their email communication attempts, that might be a silo issue. Perhaps the accountant doesn’t know that the employee is on the road this week and prefers texts or calls?
Another example is when leaders speak poorly about other department leads, such as their lack of project progress; rather than supporting the team or colleague? The more often you hear these types of statements, and the more often they occur, the more likely you have a silo issue.
Leaders who manage, supervise, or develop people and culture, have the responsibility to lead by example and to act once they discover a potential issue. Failure to do so means that they, too, are part of the problem. The imperative to act doesn’t mean that a leader must have the solutions. However, it means they should be curious and action-oriented to gather more information from internal stakeholders promptly.
It can be easy to say “good” when asked how things are going at work. It is even easier to head nod and say “yup” when asked if you understand a company email message or how the work they do impacts another department.
Instead of asking closed yes/no questions, leaders should try open-ended questions through in-person dialogue or surveys to determine the level of organizational awareness and understanding.
Ask questions such as “what does this mean for your department?”, “Why is this action important to take now” and “what are the risks of not changing?” to encourage improved business understanding.
Invite feedback about what communication tools are working well and what could be improved. Inquire about employee experiences working with other departments. Encourage employees to share ideas about how they would solve current challenges and why they think these solutions would work.
Engaging employees for input and suggestions is in and of itself a great example of breaking through silos by working to communicate to understand others’ perspectives.
Solutions sourced from the bottom up typically have improved success since they are rooted in the employees’ everyday experiences and realities. Employees are also more likely to participate in promoting and utilizing solutions that they helped conceive. There is an added level of investment and connection.
Imagine that your organization has just hired you. What evidence would you look for that indicates cohesion and collaboration? What evidence would show how strongly the organization values communication, understanding, and teamwork?
For starters, you might explore what type of communications content exists and what channels are in use and how often? Are there office huddles, wall posters, digital newsletters, active intranet, elevator or tv screens, and all teams’ meetings? How does the organization promote team building and cross-functional teams or location interactions? Do employees talk positively about the projects in the process from other departments or highlight their experiences working with a colleague in another location?
If there is very little evidence to demonstrate these values in action, chances are you have some degree of a silo issue.
The value of observation is that it supplies insights into what behaviors or strategies to continue with or to do differently. Whatever the problem, start with the opposite. The problem is the solution.
If teamwork is suffering and there are no formal opportunities for different departmental teams to spend time alongside each other, the solution is to make that time happen. As the “contact hypothesis” states, those who spend more time together are more likely to get along.
Identifying which variable contributes most to a silo environment is the first step in implementing the right solution to address it.
An intranet can be part of the silo solution. As a primary communications channel and as a single source of truth, you can address issues strategically.
When a team or organizational performance starts to wane, or employee engagement scores are falling, consider a review of your internal environment through silos. Conversely, if your organization or team is operating efficiently and working wonderfully as a team, chances are you have made the CUT. Made the CUT or not, don’t get lazy, keep building your effective internal communication structures to see positive results.