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Easy remedies for silos.

One of organizations' most frequent requests is for help in breaking down their organizational silos. Despite the fact that silos between teams, departments, or even subsidiaries are omnipresent, few organizations hope that they will disappear easily, since it is known how difficult this is. However, the real dilemma is not silos themselves, but our overestimation of how hard it will be to get rid of them: a self-defeating attitude.

Having dealt with a lot of "silo-ful" organizations, I have felt that the silos between teams, departments, and subsidiaries are analogous to the silos between humans. Just as human beings sometimes don't communicate well with each other, are unkind to each other, or let each other down, groups or organizations may exhibit the same behaviors based on the various types of people found within them. Of course, there are a lot of non-human aspects that cause organizational silos to appear. But it is striking that both human silos and organizational silos display so much of the same tendencies, such as a lack of open communication and observation of covert but silently-agreed-upon hierarchies.

On the other hand, when employees of organizations are asked about what is positive about other teams or departments, the answers usually include kind responses, friendliness, open communication, supportiveness, punctuality regarding deadlines, professionalism and a family-like atmosphere. These answers all have to do with being humane towards other people and seem to be basic interpersonal skills. If this is true, it would follow that organizations can approach organizational silos just as people approach interpersonal problems. Thus, the assumption that silos are too difficult to resolve is overly-pessimistic. It is true that silos are more complex than interpersonal problems, but they are, in some ways, merely an expansion of interpersonal problems.

This can be seen even more clearly by looking at common responses to what specific "silo problems" organizations are having. Typically, organizations cite a lack of detailed information, ambiguous standards, acting first and then asking for help later, unclear verbal requests rather than clear written requests, lack of interaction and understanding, different views on work priorities, lack of human relationships, lack of procedural flexibility, etc. Workshop participants usually propose the following solutions for these issues: empathy, shared and explicit standards, common understandings of R and Rs, small group networkings, being interested in other departments, observing work processes and regulations, maintaining a communication channel, etc. These answers are more wide-ranging than answers to interpersonal issues, because they must address a larger culture and group of people. However, they still fall under the simple categories of clarity and kindness, the two components of effective communication.

Workshop participants are typically happy to provide even more specific solutions. Some of the most common responses are along these lines: "Please don't say, "This is not my job." Rather, let me know who is responsible." "Share materials in advance when collaboration is needed." "Choose collaborators who have appropriate positions/titles for the issues being discussed." "A negative response is better than no response at all." "Please let people know when there will be delays." "Make your purpose clear." "When asking another team to do things for you, please provide them with all necessary background information." "Have an open mind about others' ideas." "Take time to socialize with your co-workers." If these answers are truly representative, which many workshop participants say they are, organizations will no longer think of silos as such difficult predicaments. Once again, these responses fall under the broader categories of kindness and clarity.

It is truly unfortunate that organizations think of silos as problems that are so difficult to solve that it might not be even worth investing time in doing so?when, as you can see, there are quick and easy solutions that can make a big difference. That is why small-group networking, opportunities for open discussion of even small problems, and a culture that allows for genuine human caring are all essential. Creating good interpersonal relationships is the first step towards an overall healthy environment?even more foundational than big-picture concepts such as culture or organizational management. At the end of the day, interdepartmental collaboration is an extension of kindness and clarity.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Date:Apr 8, 2019
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