Does it Matter That We’re Still Working in Silos?

Seventy-two percent of business leaders believe that cross-departmental working at the enterprise level benefits their employees’ experience and engagement. However, 68% of these same organizations admit to working in silos—the complete opposite of collaboration.

So, there seems to be a conundrum. We know that working in silos is detrimental to our employees, customers and the business as a whole, yet, we’re still doing it.

The question is: why?

Our Protective Bubble

To work in a silo means to build a protective bubble around you and your team, where nothing comes in and nothing goes out. It’s a zone of comfort, shielding your department from the rest of the organization.

Siloed teams keep processes and knowledge to themselves. They work independently, for the most part, toward their own goals. By actively keeping themselves to themselves, they resist cross-functional collaboration of any type.

As a result, those in the protective bubble are oblivious to the problems, processes, knowledge and successes outside of their immediate vicinity. Imagine what they’re missing! Someone from inside the bubble could have an idea that could solve one of an enterprise’s issues, or they may be the key to elevating an existing idea to the next level. But they’re in the bubble because they tend to feel overprotective of their work and that of their team–so forget about hearing those great insights.

Silos Are a Hard Habit to Break

The likelihood is that if one of the teams in your organization is working in a silo, then many others are too. And letting departments stay safe in their protective bubbles is far easier than rocking the boat and trying to change the way that several groups work.

And once we have silos, they become part of the furniture. We build our routines and the way we work around them and suddenly they become ingrained in who we are, much like a bad habit we never intended to continue, but now cannot stop.

This explains why we continue to work in silos despite knowing the detrimental impact they are having. A habit is hard to break. And even if we do start on the journey to change, it’s often easier to give up when the going gets tough than push through the problems. Take smoking for example; (one of the most difficult habits to break, sure, but hugely beneficial if you can do so) a 2015 survey found that only 7% of those who attempted to quit did so in six to 12 months. Changing ways of working has to be easier than that, right?

Bursting Those Bubbles

If staying stagnant and failing to grow or develop is more your thing, then, by all means, stay in your safe silos.

But if becoming a more efficient, engaging, and effective business is important to you (which it should be), then you cannot expect to grow if all organizational teams are moving in different directions, not sharing their processes, ideas and insights. And much like quitting smoking cold turkey is a recipe for failure, expecting to diminish our silos in one day also is not a viable option.

There is a solution that can incrementally burst those bubbles in a manageable and effective way: enterprise service management (ESM). Collaboration and communication are the main benefits of working in an ESM system; it provides organizations with one place for all departments to work in. Each team can set up and share processes, import knowledge and provide services through ESM.

And by working in this unified area, departments are unconsciously collaborating. Teams can learn from each other, thanks to the universally available knowledge, and can share processes without even realizing it’s happening.

For example, say the IT department is alerted to a printer fault in the ESM system. They first try to fix the defective item, but unfortunately, it’s not possible; they mark the printer as needing to be replaced. A notification is sent to the purchasing team asking them to buy a new printer; the order and delivery information then goes to facilities that will procure and fit the new device.

Departments are able to keep their responsibilities and meaning, which was often their primary reason for staying siloed, while also being empowered to work better with their colleagues–and they don’t even have to lift a finger to improve the collaboration; ESM provides the space and the processes to do so.

The Domino Effect

The thing with ESM is, though, that we can’t just chuck all of our departments into the system at once and expect it to solve all our problems. We must implement it slowly, sometimes even one team at a time. But once we have freed one department from its protective bubble, it becomes the catalyst for something of a domino effect.

It’s easy to work independently when everybody else is doing it, but the minute others start collaborating, it’s a different story. Imagine it’s a Friday night and you’re at home with no plans and all your friends are, too. It’s easy to be content with the situation. Now, imagine all your friends are out at a bar socializing and having fun instead, with all the pictures flooding your social media feed—the fear of missing out sets in.

The same is true of siloed working. When we’re all in our bubbles, there is no organizational connection that we’re missing out on. But if we suddenly start to see departments collaborating and succeeding thanks to shared knowledge and processes, we want to be involved, too. And the more teams suffer from the fear of missing out, the more bubbles we’re bursting until there aren’t any more left.

Stick or Break the Silos?

It’s easy to unconsciously take up the habits of siloed working; after all, we thrive with our own responsibilities and a close-knit team. But it has to be a conscious decision to break down our organizational silos; it can be a long, difficult journey to do so.
So, are you going to stick with the habit? Or find a way to collaborate and communicate better together?

Hannah Price

Hannah Price is the Service Management Consultant and Knowledge Management Expert at TOPdesk UK, charged with guiding organizations to achieve service excellence by connecting the people and technology, empowering them to work better together.

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