Aside from being concentrated areas of expertise, there is really not much good about organizational silos. Yes, they can individually provide results but they’re nowhere near as powerful as when collaborating and working together with cross-functional teams.

The Bad Things About Organizational Silos

There Are Behavioral issues

This can take the form of leaders with relationship issues or department rivalry (often as a result of poor leadership) creating barriers that keep people from working together. This becomes a spiral downward:

  • Lack of trust – We are going to scrutinize everything you do and be critical of your work
  • Disappointment – If you would only see things as we do
  • Resentment and bitterness – If you are not for us then you must be against us
  • Gossip and back-biting – We won’t attempt to talk to you but we will talk about you

Forbes magazine noted in the May 2011 issue:

“…silos destroy trust, cut off communication, and foster complacency. What is meant to produce power and control really creates animosity and suspicion.”

Even in the Bible, the Apostle Paul said in the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 12:

“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body.
A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together.
What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”?
– The Message

There Are Structural Issues

In most every organization there are 5 structural factors:

  1. Division of Labor – tasks the employees do
  2. Departmentalization – grouping similar types of jobs
  3. Managerial Hierarchy – the way in which management is layered
  4. Span of Control – relates to the number of employees supervised by a manager
  5. Centralization vs. Decentralization – centralized authority vs. decentralized authority

No matter the factors, silos seem to be the predominant structural outcome. So what do we do? For starters, we lift up and name our silos:

  • Operations,
  • Business development,
  • Marketing,
  • Donor development,
  • Human resources,
  • Communications,
  • Finance and accounting,
  • Broadcast,
  • Public Relations,
  • Web department,
  • Information services, etc.

Then we put “chiefs” over each silo:

  • COO,
  • CMO,
  • CLO,
  • CFO,
  • CIO, etc.

Please do not get me wrong at this point. I am all for structure and organized work yet, can you see how this begins to set up many organizations for failure with over complicated business processes, in-fighting, and internal “kingdom building”?

“But what about leadership?” you may ask.

Leaders over these areas have a focus and desire to get their job done while looking out for their people. Yet, many leaders loose sight over time.

Pat Lencioni said it best:

“Even the most well-meaning, intelligent people get distracted and confused amid the endless tactical and administrative details that come there way ever day. Pulled in many directions without a compass, they pursue seemingly worthwhile agendas under the assumption that their efforts will be in the best interest of the organization as a whole”
– Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars

Do you see how allowing silos in an organization becomes a strategic issue? If this is not handled at the leadership level and properly dealt with, the organization will never reach it’s full potential.

Why Integration and Collaboration is The Key

Let’s first look at the word integrate and collaborate.

1. to bring together or incorporate (parts) into a whole.
2. to make up, combine, or complete to produce a whole or a larger unit, as parts do.
3. to unite or combine.
4. to combine into one unified system; desegregate.

1. to work, one with another; cooperate, as on a literary work.
2. to cooperate, usually willingly.

A matrix management organization attempts to work in this direction. I am for integrating, bringing together, and uniting around a common cause. I am for intentional communication, collaborating, working together, cooperating willingly toward common goals.

When we look at it this way, it is not integration into an amorphous blob of an organization nor collaborating on every web project or detail within any department, but working toward common strategic priorities and goals.

Questions for Consideration

  1. Take some time to discuss what the strategic purpose and priorities are for your organization (not your department nor your position).
  2. Is the organizational purpose understood?
  3. How do you and your team contribute to the purpose?
  4. Are the priorities clear? If not, how can they be clarified?
  5. If they are clear, are they being communicated across the entire organization?

Taking the time to answer these questions are a first step toward smashing the silos in your workplace.

Remember: If You Want To Grow, Say No To The Silo

In the next installment, we will look at how staff retention and loyalty affect strategic integration.

(This post is part of a series on Strategic Integration. See the first post here.)