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The Danger of Cross-Departmental Silos and How to Eliminate Them
Intelligent leaders are aware of employees’ natural proclivities for tribalism. To combat the development of cross-departmental silos, leaders should take proactive measures such as:
- Promoting cross-departmental bridges
- Setting a unifying vision.
- Facilitating cross-departmental dialogue and cooperation
- Broadening their employees’ vision
Tribalism is a fact of life.
Tribalism is human nature. There is nothing we can do about that, no matter how we try to cast it as something purely evil and counterproductive. We have evolved into an environment of inter-group competition, and it is a mindset to which we tend to readily default.
Tribalism offers advantages, and it may inspire noble behaviors. But it can also be a highly destructive force. When, in the context of intelligent leadership, we step up against departmental tribalism, we merely encourage employees to expand their tribalism to the level of the organization.
What are Cross-departmental Silos?
Cross-departmental silos represent a warped and out-of-control version of tribalism. This version delivers to the organization everything that is negative about this social phenomenon, such as:
- Tribal bias
- Shortsighted planning and action
- The sabotaging of organizational goals
- The wasting of resources
- Declining productivity
- A silo mindset
The silo mindset prevents an organizational department from effectively sharing information with the rest of the organization. When several such silos exist within a company, they tend to develop a competitive relationship, reducing morale and undermining company culture.
What Causes the Silo Mentality?
Departmental tribalism is a mindset to which we tend to default when there is a lack of an alternative. In the context of an organization, leadership has to provide employees an alternative that actively and effectively channels their tribal tendencies into something positive, like the pursuit of a worthier, higher goal.
As I have pointed out in my leadership development books, the cause of tribalism is a leadership deficiency. Such deficiencies create a trickle-down effect, reaching every level of the organization.
In a knee-jerk reaction, some executives are quick to attribute the prevalence of the silo mentality within their organization to poor talent selection, inadequate employee training, and immaturity among the ranks. Labeling the problem this way, such leaders eschew the responsibility they have to address the problem.
How to Deal with Cross-departmental Silos?
Intelligent leaders can deal a blow to cross-departmental silos by creating a unified vision for the organization. The theme of the unified vision is a recurring one in leadership development as so much depends on it.
Behavioral issues stem from contextual problems that plague an organization, such as the lack of a long-term, unified vision.
Such a vision paints a clear picture for employees about their place in the organization. It allows them to take psychological ownership of the common goals and thus see past the confines of departmental silos.
Promoting Cross-departmental Bridges
In every organization, there are a handful of master communicators who are experts at reaching across departmental divides. Intelligent leaders focus on identifying such cultural brokers and exploiting their skills to the advantage of the organization.
Bridges connect people.
In addition to acting as a bridge, some cultural brokers can act as glue, developing the abilities of their peers to work better across departmental divides in the future.
Encouraging and Facilitating Cross-departmental Dialogue
As it often happens with tribalism, the lack of dialogue is a common cause of silo mentality. Leaders can proactively combat the silo mindset by organizing meetings and discussions that allow different departments to gain an insight into the thinking and ways of other departments. Due to tribal bias, one department may be surprised to see how another department experiences and interprets the same series of events.
Broadening Employee Vision
It is a mistake for a company to limit its employees to their immediate environment. Instead, leaders should encourage inter-departmental cooperation by bringing together teams from across diverse departments to handle initiatives.
Leadership development addresses organizations’ need for horizontal cooperation by endowing employees on all organizational levels with the skills such cooperation requires.
Silo mentality is not an issue leaders can ignore, hoping that it will resolve itself. It takes a series of proactive measures to dissolve departmental silos. And all it takes to implement such measures is common sense, empathy, and some solid leadership skills.
To learn more about how leadership development can help your organization, check out my books.