An organisation that is growing and expanding has the option to implement decentralisation, delegation, division, and specialisation. These are good practices that can move the organisation forward when executed well. However, there can also be adverse effects. A potential major setback is the formation of silos.
Silos and Silo Mentality
When we talk about silos, we generally think of large round towers built to store materials such as grains. In our context, the word “silos” is a metaphor for groups or entities that operate and function apart from one another. This kind of silos stockpiles and seals in information and resources on businesses and organisational matters. The silos also refer to groups with systems that limit the sharing of information. Silos can occur vertically and horizontally. The vertical ones happen between higher-level managers and lower-level individuals in the same team; horizontal silos occur across departments on the same level.
A silo mentality is a mindset present in people who are reluctant and do not wish to share information with others, especially those from different divisions, departments, or sectors in the same organisation. It is a negative attitude that leads to individuals operating independently while hoarding and withholding information from people, and using the information for personal gains or departmental benefits.
The silo mentality can stem from self-interest and competition among leaders and managers in the organisation, and can flow top-down to lower-ranked workers. It can also be caused by a lack of or narrow vision, where the people fail to see the bigger picture and their roles and contributions in the organisation and beyond. Another cause is attributed to the lack of awareness of the value of information they are withholding from people.
Unlikely the physical silos we see in farms, silos in organisations are intangible and they become a part of their culture. Their existence is reflected in its negative impact that causes operational inefficiency; the following are some indicators of the presence of silos:
- rivalry and hostility between departments
- limited or lost of communication between departments
- confusion in team members and workers
- interrupted work flow due to the lack of, inaccurate, or out-of-date information
- constant delay and failure to meet deadlines
- low motivation and morale in individuals
- failure to deliver value to clients or customers
- low productivity and profitability
To prevent or break down silos, proper and effective communication is essential. This is a reason why communication is an in-demand top-10 skill required for leaders, bosses, employers, and employees. Communication has been ranked first in the top-10 list by livecareer.com and opportunityjobnetwork.com, second by targetjobs.co.uk and thebalancecareers.com, and fifth by cnbc.com.
Wickhorst and Geroy define communication as the act of exchanging thoughts, messages, or information. Communication includes verbal communication and public speaking, non-verbal communication such as gestures and body language, written communication, and active listening. All these should be mastered for personal growth and career progression, and not just for the breaking of silos.
To communicate effectively, the right medium of communication must be established. Quoting from Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message”. McLuhan’s point was that the medium or channel used to send a message is just as important as the actual message, if not more important. The following are the three must-have communication channels that you should use wisely and appropriately.
1. Oral communication
This is the most important form of communication. Speak in person with one or more people in communicating an idea, concept, explanation or an emotion, projecting the right impression, engaging in discussion, and coming to consensus. Oral communication is a crucial two-way exchange where verbal and non-verbal signals are simultaneously present, and the parties involved can share information and receive feedback immediately. Therefore, you should never shy away from oral communication, especially when you are the leader of the organisation or a team leader. Use it often to share and remind the people of your organisation’s vision and mission because they are the unifying factors that keep the people together.
2. Written communication
Use this to send precise or complex information and messages that does not require any two-way dialogue, such as an announcement. Some other examples of written communication are contracts, letters, memos, reports, and presentations. Written communication is excellent in ensuring a record of exchanges made between individuals and departments, and is also effective in reaching a large number of people in a time- and cost-efficient manner. However, refrain yourself from using this channel for matters that require further input from others and decisions to be made, and any controversial subjects.
3. Electronic communication
With today’s advancement in information and communication technology and impressive Internet speed, there are many options, platforms, and applications for electronic communication. To name a few very common ones, we have emails, instant messaging like WhatsApp, Google Docs, and Zoom; communication has never been more convenient! Note also that electronic communication is fast replacing written communication as a more important channel; many organisations are in the direction to go “paperless”. So, take full advantage of this. Use electronic means to connect with and send brief messages to colleagues across divisions and team members who are working remotely from home. You can use it effectively to clarify matters and agreements that have already been reached when fast turnaround time is needed. But the wise and cautious to never use it to send inappropriate messages, spread controversial topics and negative comments, and also matters that require additional dialogue and discussion.
Silos are hazardous to relationships and organisational progress and expansion. You need to address the silo mentality and emphasise on effective communication. Make it a priority to establish and use oral, written, and electronic communications to facilitate and encourage the flow of information that benefits your organisation.