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There’s a lot of talk about organizational silos and how they affect the employee experience, the customer experience, and the business overall. Many say that silos should be broken down. But should they be broken down, or should they be connected?

Over the years, I’ve done several webinars and presentations and written several articles about silos or included silos in articles when they were a reason for some affliction occurring within and organization. Articles include:

Connected Experiences Require You to Connect Your Silos: Here’s How
Organizational Silos: Impacting Both Employee and Customer Experiences
Breaking Down Silos Between Product and CX
Silos Are For Farmers!

The Downside of Silos

Silos inhibit or prohibit collaboration, communication, and data sharing, and both employees and customers are undoubtedly impacted. Their experiences are siloed, not seamless and certainly not consistent. Forget about that smooth omnichannel experience – it’s non-existent.

Silos kill innovation. They create nightmares for the customer experience. When departments and channels don’t talk and share customer data, the experience is fragmented and frustrating. You’ve experienced this: Think about having to re-enter your information when you go from website to phone or providing information when transferred from rep to rep.

Silos can lead to a limited perspective on the organization as a whole, making it difficult to see the big picture and make strategic decisions that benefit the entire organization. As a result, they cause pain for employees, too. They lead to reduced efficiencies, waste resources, kill productivity, reduce morale (with a them-and-us mentality), and are detrimental to your ability to create a customer-centric culture, which by definition is a collaborative culture focused on customer outcomes that lead to solid business outcomes.

Instead, silos can create a culture of resistance to change, as employees become invested in their own department or unit and may be resistant to changes that affect their area of the organization. Similarly, they can lead to a silo mentality, where employees become focused on their own department or unit to the exclusion of others, which can lead to competition, conflicts, and a lack of cooperation.

THE BENEFIT OF SILOS

Believe it or not, there are benefits to silos, and this is where we start to think about connecting them rather than breaking them down. More on that in a bit, but here are the benefits.

First and probably the most popular reason silos are viewed in a positive light is that they allow for a high degree of specialization in different areas of the organization, which can lead to increased efficiency and productivity, countering one of the downsides mentioned above. These silos are often intentionally created, but that doesn’t mean that they operate in isolation. Their work overlaps or intersects with work being done in other parts of the organization. They should be sharing and communicating with other silos or the rest of the organization.

Closely related to that is the fact that silos can create pools of knowledge and expertise in different areas of the organization, which can be leveraged to solve complex problems and drive innovation. And they can help teams focus on their specific goals and objectives, without being distracted by other areas of the organization.

Silos can provide clear lines of accountability for specific tasks and projects, making it easier to identify who is responsible for certain outcomes. But if the project is cross-functional, that may negate this benefit.

To wrap that up, silos can have benefits, but they can also have downsides; therefore, it’s important for organizations to find a balance between the benefits and the downsides of silos and strive for collaboration and communication across different departments and units.

BREAK DOWN OR CONNECT?

Businesses should carefully evaluate goals and context in determining when and how silos should be used, and they should strive for a balance between the benefits and downsides of silos. Of course, determining whether to break down or to connect silos comes with a set of pros and cons.

Breaking Down Silos

Breaking down silos can lead to improved communication and collaboration between departments or units, which can result in better decision-making and problem-solving. And when you remove barriers between departments or units, you start to experience greater efficiencies by reducing duplication of effort and increasing coordination and alignment. And finally, breaking down silos can create an environment that fosters creativity and innovation by encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas.

On the downsides, employees might resist breaking down silos for fear of losing control or influence over their area of the organization. And that specialized knowledge or expertise mentioned earlier might be lost when silos are broken down. Also, breaking down silos might introduce complexities and may require significant changes to organizational structure and processes.

Connecting Silos

Connecting silos can facilitate knowledge sharing and cross-functional learning, which can lead to increased innovation and better decision-making. It can create opportunities for collaboration and cooperation between departments or units, leading to better outcomes and greater efficiency. And it helps ensure that the organization is focused on providing a seamless experience for customers across all departments or units.

Unfortunately, employees may resist connecting silos due to fear of losing autonomy or control over their area of the organization. Connecting silos might result in increased complexity and may require significant changes to organizational structure and processes. And it might result in a loss of specialized knowledge or expertise in specific areas of the organization.

What’s Next?

Whether organizational silos should be broken down or connected depends on the specific goals and context of the organization. Breaking down silos can lead to better communication and more collaboration, while connecting silos can facilitate knowledge sharing and cross-functional learning. Both approaches can have downsides, such as resistance to change and increased complexity, so it’s important to carefully consider the pros and cons of each approach and choose the one that best aligns with the organization’s goals and values. It may also mean that some silos are connected, while others are broken down.

TOOLS TO IDENTIFY AND UNDERSTAND

Now you know the pros and cons, but what tools are available to help you both identify if and where silos exist and then to better understand if they are needed or not, if they benefit the organization or are a detriment.

1. Journey maps: by definition, when you map customer journeys, you must involve cross-functional stakeholders, which (a) gets them collaborating and sharing and (b) helps them see how various departments impact a single customer journey. As a result of that epiphany, they realize they must work together to improve the experience. A previous client mapped their customer journeys and learned that their siloed business units created a poor experience for the customer, who had to re-engage as a new customer each time he worked with a different business unit. After mapping, they flipped the organization on its head and organized the business to align with the customer journey rather than being a siloed journey through their individual business units.

2. Service blueprints: as part of the journey mapping process, you must create service blueprints, which provide that surface to core view of what’s behind the customer experience. They highlight the people, tools, systems, processes, and policies that create and facilitate the experience customers are having. Creating this visualization provides you with a window into how different parts of the organization must work together to deliver the experience, and it should help to amplify those areas that must collaborate seamlessly to ensure it’s a great experience.

3. Social network analysis: SNA is a method for studying social relationships between individuals or groups. It involves analyzing the patterns of communication and interaction between people to understand the structure and dynamics of a social network. It can help identify key players or influencers within a network, measure the strength of relationships between individuals or groups, and identify gaps or areas where communication could be improved. It looks for informal connections and helps organizations understand how to exploit them to achieve outcomes.

4. Organizational network analysis: ONA is a type of social network analysis that focuses on the formal and informal relationships between individuals, teams, and departments within an organization. It provides insights into the formal reporting structures, communication channels, and collaboration patterns within an organization. It helps identify key people or teams that are central to the flow of information and decision-making within the organization, and it can highlight areas where silos may exist, as well as identify opportunities for improving communication, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing within an organization.

Both network analysis methods provide valuable insights into communication and collaboration patterns, which can be used to identify areas for improvement and promote innovation and growth within the organization.

Let me know if or how you’ve used these tools to determine what’s best for your organization, i.e., where do silos exist, and should they be connected or broken down.

IN CLOSING

One final closing question: is your culture customer-centric?

Why do I ask?

By definition, a customer-centric culture is a collaborative culture. By definition, the entire organization rallies around the customer. Also by definition, the entire organization must work toward a common goal, to deliver a seamless and consistent experience for the customer. That cannot happen in a fragmented organization. It can only happen when everyone works together. That is a major benefit for customers and for employees. Breaking down or connecting silos takes some of the effort out of the experience for both employees and customers.

Silos rise up not because of what executives are doing purposefully but rather because of what they are failing to do: provide themselves and their employees with a compelling context for working together. ~ Unknown

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.