Three decades ago we were worrying about silos, and we still are today. This is in part because as humans we’ve been hard-wired to build strong bonds with those in our immediate group – and disparage those who are outside (or ‘in-group vs. out-group’ bias as the social psychologists term it). It is also because in many instances the Tayloristic structures set up to serve a very different world still stand strong. So cracking silos is a question of structure and mindset.
Loosen the structure
Ideally we would tackle the root cause of siloed thinking with structural changes. Rigid org charts with clearly demarcated functions need to be replaced with a clear overarching strategy, accompanied by light-touch governance guiding customer-centric teams:
Figure 1: Showing light-touch governance and customer-centric teams replacing hierarchical functions
Customer-centric teams are ones put together to tackle a particular customer issue or episode. For example, opening a current account in a bank, or experiencing a high-quality training session. If we also make it abundantly clear how delivering on each of these episodes will join up to create the company’s overall goals, this will go a long way to reducing silo mindsets. It is this way of working that is helping newer organizations like Spotify and AirBnB grow exponentially – as well as more traditional businesses like ING bank that have been quick to adapt.
Cultivate cross-silo mindsets
But it may not be in your remit to change the structure. If your business is still organized around functions, a stepping stone towards full customer-centricity and integration is job rotation. As a very simple indicator of your organization’s culture, ask yourself how easy it is to make a cross-functional move within your organization? If you want to encourage individuals to break out of silos, job rotation is one of the best development activities you can invest in. This can be something you request if it is not currently on offer (with this blog as back-up).
A second key area to look at is our goals and what we (and our team) will be rewarded for. It is up to each of us as individuals to make sure that our goals are set to encourage us to take the end-to-end, cross-silo view – rather than just the betterment of our function or unit. This will mean having goals where we are accountable for more than we can directly control. The span of what and who we need to influence will likely be greater than our direct authority. This also means asking for (and acting on) feedback from outside our department on how we are to work with. We may need to constructively challenge our manager to reset our goals in this way. But as we’ve blogged about before, this usually makes our jobs feel more meaningful and interesting.
Finally, siloed thinking was found by McKinsey to be one of the key barriers to successful digital transformation, so now more than ever it is imperative that we crack this issue once and for all.