I interface with organizations who have every intention of being collaborative. But, their collective actions and reactions tell a very different story. We may have every hope of functioning as a seamless multifunctional operation — working in concert to satisfy our clients and meet organizational goals. But in reality, this is quite difficult to accomplish. There are obvious, telling signs that we’ve missed that mark.
By nature, silos develop in organizations to protect valued resources. This is often fear-based — and building these proverbial “walls” can become the kiss of death for any organization that expects to remain agile. We’d all like to think of our organization as moving beyond this developmental phase. However, it is easy to slip into “protective mode”. In some cases, we’ve acquiesced back into a “siloed” state without recognizing the malaise.
Here are a few telling signs to consider:
- Lack of a constructive cross-functional conversation. Let’s face the facts — there really isn’t a lot of communication going on cross-functionally. Your customer protocol doesn’t dovetail with other functional groups, and no one seems to be alarmed that this step is absent.
- Customers aren’t central to the conversation. Your teams are so busy putting out fires and keeping up with the demands, that customers and clients are no longer central. When the “tail” (acute issues) starts wagging the dog (being long-term smart), it’s time to slow down and take another look.
- You are unsure what other people are doing. Processes and procedures can evolve quickly. You can lose site of the roles that others play in the larger scheme. As result, your team really doesn’t have a grasp of how to effectively interface with other parts of the business.
- Rampant “blamestorming”. Joint ownership of process and procedural issues is non-existent. If issues seem to be more like “hot potatoes of blame” than a “call to arms” to improve — take this an ominous warning that things are a muck. If everyone seems to point a finger, yet no one is venturing into the spotlight to say “we take responsibility”, you may have a real problem.
- Separate cultural identities. If each functional group is more akin to an independent “pop up” shop, take note. You might blame each other for the current problems or snafus— but it’s really the lack of shared vision that’s the offender. Time to re-group and get on the same page.
- Things are portrayed as a “zero sum” game. If your group seems to feel that if they “give up” responsibility (even if tasks are best moved to another team), they feel your presence would be minimized. Wrong. Scope of work should be assigned to the group most able to deliver the end-product of the highest quality.
- You’ve given up trying to become a better organization. Many siloed organizations aren’t happy with the status quo — but their employees feel efforts to change the dynamic are fruitless. (I see this as a form of “learned helplessness”.) If you are so frustrated that you feel things cannot be improved, this is a telling sign that your group needs help.
Have you seen this operating in your organization? What did you do?
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who starts conversation about work and organizations. She also writes at LinkedIn.