What Can You Do To Break Down The Silos?

Organizational leaders today are confronted with many complex issues during their attempts to promote collaboration among people in different areas, and when adopting best practices throughout their organization. Whether the people are in different departments or locations, a lack of teamwork is a common problem that is difficult to resolve.

Organizations that do not subscribe to Lean philosophies tend to be built with silo structures. Managing resources by function in these silos is a natural tendency, but it comes with a price. Symptoms of silo management include:

  • Lack of alignment across the organization
  • Barriers that interfere with teamwork and sharing
  • Reasonable unit efficiency, but poor overall efficiency
  • Standardization does not exist, or standards differ across silos
  • Repeatedly solving the same problems
  • Little capacity to perform value-added activities for customers
  • Emphasis on short-term profits

What can you do to break down the silos?

Support the Value Stream

Understand the nature of silo management, then develop a shared language of improvement and disseminate it across the value stream. Move away from functional silos of disciplinary “experts” and move toward an organization built around the product or service it provides. Leaders should be trained not to think across silos, but to remove silos, by challenging the need for them to exist. By following the value stream, the organization serves the customer and the leaders serve the organization.

Evaluating Performance

What enables or prevents silo thinking is a combination of how people are measured and incentivized; how responsibilities and accountability is assigned; and how the role of leadership is understood. To improve how you keep score, leaders should stop measuring departments by short-term goals, and instead focus on customer satisfaction. By following these steps, the profits will surely come.

Focus on Teamwork

Getting people to work as a team requires treating them as a team. On the other hand, when you measure and hold people accountable as individuals, they will act as individuals. Teamwork and idea sharing are key components to Lean enterprises because they take the task assigned one step further by improving it. Collaboration accelerates leaders beyond production to teaching and coaching future leaders. There’s a choice: think outside the box or think inside the silo. Under silos, it is hard for individuals to be innovative because the focus is on “doing the job” with no encouragement and little capacity to go beyond that. In Lean enterprises, “do your job” has a different meaning, and individuals are encouraged to improve.

About the Authors

Mike Sibley and Katie Davis are passionate about creating thorough and sustainable systems to help organizations become Lean Enterprises. In addition to writing and speaking on Lean Six Sigma, Mike and Katie work directly with an organization’s members to evaluate an existing process and identify solutions that eliminate waste, as well as build efficiency and quality into the process. Mike and Katie have applied these approaches for manufacturing, construction, professional services, and governmental entities.