Stuck in Silos? Start With These Steps
Communication is the foundation of an effective organization. When more than one person is working on a project, exchanging information accurately and quickly is vital to getting work done. Which is why information silos — individuals or departments that tend to accumulate information without sharing it — can so quickly damage productivity.
We can share a number of stories about how information silos damage a team’s ability to connect, complete tasks, and avoid redundancies. But today we want to look at how information silos negatively impact morale and organizational engagement. After all, there’s no faster way to make someone feel unplugged and unmotivated than to make them feel like they’re cut off from the information or resources they need to do their job.
Information silos have their purposes. Some departments, like Human Resources, need to operate with a certain amount of anonymity and authority. There’s also such a thing as an organization that’s too flat. Since our capacity to network and create relationships with coworkers taps out at around 150 people, intentionally reinforcing smaller groups is a great way to maintain a strong culture in a large organization.
However, in general, information silos that run unchecked (or unintentionally) are going to have a negative impact on how your employees feel about their jobs. Here are three steps that will help you break through these divides and drive organizational engagement for siloed teams:
Track Down the Root Cause
The first on our list of steps is the most uncomfortable: you need to identify where the silos are the strongest, and whether or not specific individuals or groups are causing (often unintentionally!) information silos.
In some organizations, this can be a star performer who’s been around so long no one junior to them feels comfortable speaking up or an unspoken rule among managers that you don’t share what you don’t have to. Or it might be a new situation that’s cropped up between two employees who don’t want to work together for one reason or another.
Whatever the cause, you can’t get a fix on the most appropriate solution unless you understand the source of the problem. Perform an “autopsy” on a project or client initiative that went wrong and see if you can trace the problem back to one group, person, or process. Ask your team for feedback. Look for patterns in the data. For example, if you perform a culture assessment and notice that one particular location has particularly low “Communication” scores — you probably want to take a deeper look at the situation there.
Not only will this help you build a case for how to address the silo, but it will be an enormous morale boost for any employees who feel like they’re stuck behind a silo and no one cares.
Accept Feedback on Processes — And Then Make A Change
Next up in is soliciting and accepting feedback to develop a solution. If you dig through the data and find that it’s just good old-fashioned business processes that are creating silos, the best step is to go back to the source: talk to your team and ask for feedback. Not only does diversity of opinion challenge and improve ideas, but you’ll benefit from your team’s day-to-day experience of what actually might work and what would be difficult to implement. Pro tip: try applying design thinking practices to this process! Check out our webinar recording to get started.
Then — and this is the tough part — you need to actually implement a change. You don’t have to adhere to your employee’s exact suggestions, but it’s key to morale that they see you accepting feedback and then acting on it in some way. Without the action part, it sends the morale-busting message that, “We hear you… and we don’t care.”
Click here to read about how 1st Global responds to employee feedback.
Follow Up On the Solution
Don’t make a decision about silos in a silo. Once you’ve worked through the initial rounds of change — and remember, change is hard, so be patient — double back and ask for more feedback to assess the success of the change. Ask employees to share stories about communication and collaboration from before and after you’ve implemented the changes, and consider how increased communication is affecting their work, for better or for worse. Finally, review your own communication habits around the change to make sure you’ve sent a consistent message.
If left unattended, information silos can have a negative impact on organizational engagement — use these steps to ensure that silos aren’t holding your employees and team back.