The idea of a silo is great on a farm in that they keep everything fresh, safe, and, most importantly, separate! These structures allow the farmer to do as they need with their product both quickly and easily. However, when it comes to your business, the silo is not nearly as helpful.

Organizational silos occur when different aspects of a business do not share common goals, have ineffective communication, compete against or work independently of each other. The result is serious impacts on operational effectiveness, profitability, employee moral, and, most importantly, the culture of a business.

So, what does a business silo actually look like? The only people who really have an answer are the production employees within your enterprise. For a start, look for those individuals who are focused on one task and only flow in the same direction. If you’ve ever heard statements such as “don’t worry about those guys, we need to hit our goal,” “that doesn’t effect me,” or “I have no idea what so and so does,” then chances are silos exist within your walls. Further, if you ask about other departments, some aspects of the business or corporate goals, what response do you get? Is it “I don’t know,” or worse yet “that’s not my job.” If so, you can be sure to have silos.

It’s okay, silos are natural and exist in all businesses. In order to remove them, deliberate actions that start with upper management then cascading through the entire organization must be made. There are two things required to combat this and they are unfortunately becoming buzz words in today’s business lexicon, cross-collaboration and transparency.

Very effective, and an easy way to begin the tear down, is by exposing employees to areas of a business that they do not normally operate in. Almost every position in a company has an internal supplier and customer. Start by opening up people to the trials and tribulations of both sides of their positional supply chains. This builds empathy for their suppliers and accountability to the customers. In addition, it will encourage communication, while increasing the understanding of how one another fits into the larger picture.

That being said, employees need to know what the big picture is. From a leadership perspective this may well be the hardest part of the journey. What should be shared? What is too much? What is not enough? To be frank, if you have heard any of the statements noted above, what you are doing today is simply too little. Having a mindset of “on a need to know basis,” contributes to rumours and people making their own incorrect conclusions. Be honest with your staff about how the market is driving business and where the corporation is at in terms of its goals. Share not only the good, but the bad as well. This openness shows respect and empowers individuals. Keep in mind that department isolations will not crumble. Every business has their own unique form of cache, but all share one common thread — they take time and effort to remove. First, recognize these silos exist and empower your staff with the skills and knowledge to tear them down. You too will be surprised by the end result.

Shane Zakaluk
Director of Engineering & Quality Assurance