As it appeared in the Daily Nation on Sept 20th2016
by Lucy Kiruthu
“Everyone should just focus on what is going on in their department.” This is a common phrase in organizations where silo mentality is customary. In such organizations, new products are launched into the marketplace without the knowledge of all the parties concerned. One customer service manager lamented how a customer was the first to make her aware of a new product that was already in the marketplace. The customer had received an email shot that had all the details about this new product from the marketing team; unfortunately, the marketers had not bothered to communicate internally. In yet another incident, an IT department made some major changes to the invoicing system without alerting the finance and sales teams. It was only when the finance team complained about the changes that the IT department explained why their action was necessary.
It is evident that in many organizations, most functions such as finance, human resources, information technology (IT), communications and marketing are stuck in their own cocoons. These departments remain in their own silos are really good at what they do but many fail to adequately support other departments. This makes cross-functional interactions a nightmare. In addition, inter-functional conflict is commonplace for tasks that cut across functions. In their effort to strongly stand alone, the main area that suffers the most is the customer experience. This is because what happens in every department either directly or indirectly affects the customer experience. The internal customer too is left in distraught.
Pushing out the silo mentality is not that easy. We grew up being told about the need to be independent. We were required to hide our exam answers from our desk mates. However, when we interviewed for our job we mentioned that being a team player was one of our strengths. At least we may have played a team sport like soccer or volleyball or netball and we recognized the importance of team effort. We joined the workplace and observed that unfortunately many considered individual targets more important than overall business objectives. This is despite the fact that organizations have teamwork as one of the core values. We regard ourselves as one team. During the annual performance review ritual, feedback from colleagues especially those in other departments is rarely sought. Our boss’ personal perception of our team effort within the department remains supreme. Indeed our being part of a silo has a lot with the heads of department’s silo mentality.
It is very important to break down the barriers across functions that strengthen the silos and especially push out the silo mentality in individuals within departments. This is only possible through creating a corporate culture of collaboration aimed at meeting overall business objectives from the top-down. When we hear about collaboration, we may only think about the musicians. Some like daddy Owen and Allan Aaron did a very successful collabo. Collaboration is what we need at the workplace, it is considered a higher level of interdependence key to breaking barriers and achieving corporate goals. It pushes out behaviours that are counterproductive to thinking and to acting together across functions. More importantly, collaboration encourages meeting the needs of each other and those of our customers thus creating a healthy work environment.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy