Silo busting – breaking down barriers

Do you know who works at the next row of desks, in the next office, on the next floor, and how they contribute to the organization? Too often we work within the narrow confines of our own area and never find out who our colleagues are. Have you noticed this where you work?

Gillian Tett, the US editor of the Financial Times, has written a book entitled ‘The Silo Effect – The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers‘ to address this issue. In this video clip she calls silo-working ‘tribalism’ and ‘tunnel vision’, talks of the pros and cons of working in silos, the rise of short-term-ism and organizational ridigity. She asks whether companies recognize whether they themselves work in silos and if so, recommends taking action to address it.

She advocates several ways to break down silos, one of which is to rotate people between jobs.

Job rotation

Changing roles frequently is a good way for individuals to learn more about the organization and to enhance their career. The organization too gains but it also loses. In my experience, productivity suffers if too many people in the organization are put on a 2-year cycle of job rotation.

They spend the first 6 months learning the job, the next 12 months doing the job, and the final 6 months looking for the next job.

The organization acquires a large overhead which it may not have accounted for, with HR coordinating moves. There is a loss of valuable time with people applying for jobs, being interviewed by colleagues, and administration of changes to various support systems when a job offer is made and accepted.

When the turnover is so rapid, it is hard to know who’s who in a team. It can be difficult to identify the go-to people, the known experts. When you walk into a team area which you think you know, you are confronted by new faces, and this can be intimidating and overwhelming.

The organization also loses corporate memory as no-one remembers what has happened in the past (recent and distant) or a lone voice recalling the past can be easily ignored.

Simple, practical alternatives to help to break down barriers

The Knowledge Maverick site offers some practical examples of how to reach out across the organization to meet colleagues, without massive overheads or re-organizing.

Some of these may appear to be unorthodox but they work precisely because they are about the individual, not about the organization or a person’s place within the organization. These are real examples:

Even more ideas

There’s still yet more ideas you could try:

  • Randomised Coffee Trials where two people meet for a coffee and a chat
  • Joint-team lunches or afternoon teas where your team joins another for a social chat
  • Friday meet up after work at the pub
  • Have your organization join a local business sports league and create a team to participate.

Why not try some or any of these yourself in your place of work and break down those silos?

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