Let Your Experts Decide When Silos Are No Longer Needed

In the early phases of business or any time you must move fast, siloing can help you by creating clear guardrails/responsibilities and keeping work more streamlined.

small group meeting

Right now, there's a massive emphasis in the business community on transparency and authenticity. As part of this, leaders are rethinking traditional organizational structures and, in many cases, ditching departmental silos. This can work in a company's favor, but sometimes, maintaining at least some siloing is an advantage.

When Siloing Hurts and When It Helps

In a typical business, you go through four stages — startup, growth, maturity and renewal/rebirth. In the initial stages, when you're just getting off the ground, everybody is still getting to know each other. There's a considerable need for everyone on the team to tap their expertise as efficiently and effectively as possible. Without silos, people can be unsure of their responsibilities or how they fit into the business. It's harder for them to know where to go, what to do and how to support the company when the need for internal support is the biggest. Speed and productivity can take a severe hit.

By contrast, in the later phases, everybody knows each other's skills. Roles are clearly defined. There are usually many more people within management and on the team as a whole. If you break down silos in the later phases, people can enhance what you've already built by bringing their expertise to different company channels.

Now, the caveat is, many people want to use their expertise without having to sign off on every little thing. But when silos are gone, everybody believes they have a say in everything. Everyone included in the decision-making process thinks they deserve to have some authority, and you end up needing sign-offs from lots of people. Getting all those approvals can slow down productivity and hurt your bottom line.

This isn't as much of an issue in the startup phase because the number of people on the team is limited. But in the later stages, where you have many managers, supervisors or executives, it can become a nightmare. Not only does it take more time for people to finish work, but the team can feel demoralized. Employees have to wait and wait and never feel like management cares or sees any urgency in the employees' work.

In the early phases of business or any time you must move fast, siloing can help you by creating clear guardrails/responsibilities and keeping work more streamlined. If you must remove silos, then it's typically better to do it in the later phases when people already have a sense of what everyone brings to the table.

A Real-Life Example

In my own business, we recently launched a product in Europe. The marketing team already has to get signoffs for compliance, legal and other areas. But our sales team thinks they should have a say in the marketing and advertising of the product, too. While we appreciate the insight that the sales team can bring, that will put the two teams at odds while limiting what marketing can get done quickly. In a launch, every minute counts.

Working Effectively Even When Silos Are in Place

If you're still transitioning out of silos or there isn't a suitable way to dissolve the ones you have, you can still work effectively if you intentionally look for better ways to adapt and establish unity.

One option is to have monthly meetings with various departments. In my own company, we are intentional about scheduling interdepartmental meetings. No matter who ends up attending, this allows us to find out what's happening, share or pass along information and make sure nobody's in the dark. It's a consistent time for people to build some camaraderie, too.

Remote work admittedly has made meetings more challenging. It's essential then, as a manager, that you're deliberate about managing both the schedule and the agenda.

Make It Your Own

Today, more and more companies are tearing down silos at every stage and in all types of situations in the name of transparent, empowering leadership. However, as anyone who has suffered corporate red tape can tell you, there are advantages to having small circles of authority and expertise in some cases. Think carefully about your company's current position and what you need to achieve. As a golden rule, remember that we try to hire employees for their expertise, so build processes that allow your experts to flourish.

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