By now, there are likely few people who don’t know (or haven’t experienced) a silo problem within their organisations.
If this doesn’t sound familiar, ask yourself a few questions: Is your management team constantly fighting about who is supposed to be responsible for something and blaming each other when things don’t get done? Are your teammates hoarding information? Are you frustrated because performance is suffering and no one seems to want to step up and change things? If you answered yes, chances are you have a silo problem.
Recently, I worked with a team whose leader came up with an innovative solution to his silo problem. He had struggled to get them to understand the need to work collaboratively across their functional areas, beyond their silos, but they were too comfortable to change. It dawned on him that if he couldn’t get them to dismantle their silos, he would change who was in them. He decided to switch their roles.
He began by asking three members of his five-member executive team to swap. His finance leader moved into an operations role, his operations leader moved into a production support role and his production support leader moved into the finance role. The team leader and the HR leader stayed put.
As you can imagine, the first couple of weeks were topsy-turvy as each leader navigated their new area as a novice. Each executive was highly uncomfortable and skeptical at first. But by the end of four months, they were a much more cohesive team. Why did this unconventional move work? Because the team leads could no longer rely on their functional expertise to move forward -- they had to work together.
When asked to describe what they’d learned in the temporary experiment, here’s what the team reported. They were proud that:
- Day-to-day work continued on without any big disruptions. They achieved solid results at the end of the quarter.
- They moved significant pieces forward that had been stalled for months.
- They had a better appreciation for each other’s portfolios, priorities, challenges and solutions.
- They went back to their original roles with broader, more integrated and collaborative perspectives. They trusted their team members more.
- They had a clearer understanding of roles and responsibilities and were more willing to help in other areas.
- They empowered their teams by adding their value at the right level. They stayed out of the weeds and let their teams do the work.
They also discovered that:
- Direction and priorities were unclear and not aligned in many instances.
- Decisions were not always timely and/or were reopened for discussion unnecessarily.
- Handoff points were not clear between the functional areas.
- Lack of communication was leading to many of the tensions.
After the rotations, team members were more motivated to solve the challenges facing the team — and to solve them as a team. They realised that each team member was committed and invested. Working through challenges became easier as each team member had a better understanding of what each of them was dealing with in their own areas.
To this day, the team continues to work collaboratively and solve challenges together.
If you’re on a siloed team, consider rotating roles. It may not solve all of your challenges, but it will go a long way to developing better communication, more collaboration and increased mutual trust.