‘Silo’ is a term in the business sphere that brings an image easily to mind: shiny silver bullet shaped containers filled with grain or corn, spread all over America. The silos are almost impenetrable, keeping their contents safe, dry and from mixing with other types of grain. A similar thing happens in business: departments turn into silos, using their resources to protect and maintain their people and preventing any cross-departmental collaboration or association. As opposed to the usefulness of silos to the farming community, the development of silos is fatal to the productivity of a company, organization, or ministry.
Silos are just as prevalent in Christian organizations as they are secular ones, doing as much damage to the effectiveness of their mission and the cohesiveness of the employees. Silos naturally begin to form in larger organizations when departments aren’t aware of what their counterparts are doing and how that fits into the larger picture of the organization. Departments begin competing with each other for resources and internal politics get fierce and the focus is no longer on accomplishing the mission.
But what causes silos in large organizations? In his book Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, Patrick Lencioni points to the leadership as the cause of silos. “If there is a place where the blame for silos and politics belongs, it is at the top of an organization. Every departmental silo in any company can ultimately be traced back to the leaders of those departments, who have failed to understand the interdependencies that must exist among the executive team, or who have failed to make those interdependencies clear to the people deeper in their own departments” (177). The root problem of silos is a lack of communication, something for which the leadership of the organization is responsible. If the leadership does not effectively communicate the importance of a unified effort of the entire organization to reach a goal, then silos will begin to form.
We find this to be true with organizations that take our survey at BCWI: over and over again the employees of organizations with entrenched silos discuss the disunity of the goals in the organization and how each department functions independently of everyone else. There is no socializing across departments, no effort made to understand the work they do and no report of accomplishments. This severely tanks morale and fosters hostility among co-workers.
Unfortunately, the same thing happens on a larger level in the Church body. Before Jesus was arrested, he prayed for unity of his followers. “My prayer is not for [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 20-21, 23). Jesus’ prayer for us as Christ followers is unity. The entire body of Christ needs to be united in order to achieve God’s BHAG for the world: bringing everyone to Christ through baptism and teaching. As mentioned in the previous post (Big Hairy Audacious Goals for Christian Workplaces), organizations must be unified in order to achieve their goals. Jesus prays for unity not only because its the one thing we need the most, but because it is the hardest thing to do. The Christian Church is not unified. And the disunity and internal conflict has done serious damage to God’s BHAG, making other denominations the enemy instead of partners and collaborators.
So, how do we break down silos and create unity at the organizational level?
1. Have a BHAG. The main character in Lencioni’s leadership fable about silos began his search for unity by looking at a company that had successfully eliminated their departmental fighting. They had done so in crisis: their company was going under and it was unite or die. They united under the demands needed to achieve their goal of keeping their jobs and staying in business. Lencioni proposes that organizations can have the same intensity of purpose without the crisis through ‘thematic goals,’ or what Jim Collins calls BHAGs. These are goals big enough that every single person in the organization needs to work towards in order for them to be accomplished. Having one BHAG will unify the organization and turn the attention from competing internally to collaborating cross-departmentally. For more about BHAGs, click here.
2. Communicate Effectively. Leadership must learn and utilize excellent communication methods to break down silos. Employees need to know how every department fits into the big picture and how every department is vital to the successful completion of the organization’s BHAG. Leaders of different departments need to communicate with each other and encourage their employees to communicate across departments.
3. Encourage Cross-Departmental Socialization. Employees from different departments will work better with each other if there is intentional relationship development. Many employees from organizations we work with voice a desire to know people outside of their department, but an opportunity is never provided. By providing that opportunity, employees will get a feel for what is going on in other departments and can share their accomplishments.