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Breaking Down the Silos

Breaking down the silos isn’t going to be easy, especially if that’s the way things have always been done. But silos are detrimental to an organization’s success, and in the coming years they will be devastating, if not fatal, to your discipline. Things are moving too rapidly for disciplines to be protecting their own turfs.

A siloed organization cannot act quickly, make productive decisions, or be nimble, which all are requirements of marketing in a networked media age. Technology changes the way you do your job nearly daily.

Typically, you see silos in larger organizations, but there also is evidence of their developing fairly rapidly in start-ups and small companies.

According to Life Science Leader magazine,3 silos destroy trust, cut off communication, and foster complacency. What is meant to produce power and control really creates animosity and suspicion.

Just like the corn and wheat silos you see along the side of the road, business silos hold important things and prevent them from being shared with colleagues and peers.

Unlike the agricultural silo that protects grain from bad weather, however, a business silo protects much less than intended. Instead it hoards and controls and hurts.

Do you like hearing about projects that got underway without your knowledge? Do you like not talking to other leaders within your organization? Do you like championing your own cause without support from your peers? How often do you attend an all-staff meeting to discover a new effort you’re in charge of executing, and it’s the first you’ve heard of it?

No one likes this. Yet it happens every day, in organizations of every size.

There are two types of silos: the lonely and the functional.

The lonely silo has no connection to the outside world. This typically happens at a start-up, where the focus is on getting things done and out the door, rather than on doing things the right way.

The functional silo has what some may confuse with a team-like feel. There are brainstorm sessions and late nights and pizza brought in, but the “team” doesn’t have a seat at the business strategy table. Things don’t move quickly, because 10 silos have to sign off on everything, slowing the process and creating an absurd amount of red tape.

Unfortunately, breaking down the silos has to be done before you can market in the round, so you have a big challenge on your hands. You’re going to have to get the organization to change.

People don’t change because they want to. They change because they’re forced to—by customers, by competition, by the economy, by advances in technology, or by government regulations.

You may have to force a crisis.

The first thing you have to do is get buy-in from the corner office. The vision and the messages must be consistently communicated from your leadership team—even if you have to remind your executive team it’s time to communicate the vision and drive the messages. They have to come from the corner office.

Then you must gather someone from every discipline. Ask supervisors to elect a person from their departments, or ask people to apply for the positions. This allows you to gauge their interest and level of commitment. Make participation part of their bonus program. Create mandatory meetings where you share data so everyone understands the strengths, the challenges, and the areas for improvement of each department. Build trust among the team.

You’re going to be creating change, and people fear change. They fear doing things differently than they have always been done. You’ll face resistance. You’ll face criticism. Change management is not easy, but you’ll be blazing the trail to market in the round, which will make everyone, and the company, more successful.

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