Growing up in Ohio, I saw my share of farm land and storage silos. Little did I know that many years later I would be sitting in a seminar about silos in the workplace. Fascinating.
The topic was how we sometimes isolate (or silo) ourselves from other people and departments for one reason or another. The reasons for this are plentiful… fear, lack of trust or respect, lack of communication, no shared goals, etc. Of course the point of the session was how damaging these can be to workplace productivity and morale.
One of the exercises we did during the session was to think of a partnership we had been a part of that was particularly successful and why.
The first thing I thought of was my involvement with the IAAPA HR Committee. We are tasked with organizing the education programs for the annual expo, and because our committee members are literally spread all over the world, our work is done mostly by conference call and email. Normally, this would be a great breeding ground for silos and isolation, just given our distance apart. But in my two years on the committee, the experience has been the exact opposite.
When asked why this partnership works so well, it came down to a couple of factors for me:
Mutual goals – we all have the same goal of putting on the best expo we can, bottom line.
Shared accountability – we trust each other to accomplish our individual tasks, and there is no shortage of help if someone gets in the weeds.
We are all volunteers – we all want to be part of this group. No one is forced or coerced to be a member, and it shows in our involvement level. We’ve all got day jobs, but we also really enjoy helping the industry as a whole.
We get along – while this may not be the case for all teams, it is for us. I think because we trust and respect that others on the committee are just as committed as we are, we tend NOT to question their motives or intentions.
If you want to know what breeds silos in a workplace, look at the opposites of the characteristics above.
One of the final thoughts of the seminar was to think of a time when your department or company was in crisis. What happened? Did people come out of their “silos” to deal with the emergency? Did people ignore the hierarchy or specific titles to do what was needed to get done? Did things get done more efficiently?
Silos do tend to break down during a crisis because of a highly important, single focus that captures the attention of many people.
Just imagine if you could create that kind of urgency and teamwork without a crisis… hmm…
Thanks for reading!