Silos, Fortresses and Lunch With Strangers

silosIs your organization a series of fortresses where departments battle each other for resources, attention, and influence? Too often in large organizations, staff may rarely connect with others outside their department unless forced to do so through meetings, processes get implemented without an understanding of broader implications and consequences, and information passes only through select channels. The result is not an effective organization committed to global goals, but a series of petty fiefdoms whose individual focus often distorts the larger mission. If this sounds familiar, perhaps it is time to tear down those walls and take steps to achieve organizational excellence.

Silos aren’t created by organizations; they’re created by people. More often than not, leaders create and perpetuate barriers through inappropriate behavior and action. To eliminate silos, leaders must facilitate conversations and require collaboration across functional areas. Here are a few practical tips:


Like most of us, you probably eat lunch with the same circle of friends and colleagues, or worse, you eat alone at your desk. My advice? Stop it. Having lunch with the same people (or by yourself) every day is a HUGE missed opportunity. Instead, ask people to lunch from different functional areas to find common ground, soothe a strained relationship, educate yourself about their area, solve problems, or collaborate on a new initiative. Articulate your reasons for meeting with the invitation, but Do NOT make it only about your needs. Seek first to understand their world and help them, without expecting anything in return. Strike a balance between chitchat and a working lunch. Your main focus may be about work, but enjoy getting to know your colleague as well – that is what builds relationships.


Invite people from other departments to your regular meetings. This simple gesture can be tremendously powerful and productive. People love to share information about their work and the cool things happening in their area. In return, guests leave with a better understanding of your team’s structure, goals, and accomplishments. Provide time for questions on both sides to raise issues and initiatives that could be developed collaboratively. Ask your staff to identify people they’d like to meet. Start now with an invitation to your NEXT meeting and make “guests” a regular occurrence.


Challenge your staff to be the most networked group within the organization and reinforce your expectation through conversations, evaluations, and success stories. Measure networking through monthly reports or one-on-one meetings by asking staff to identify the people they have met and their conversation. We are all more likely to go out of our way to help people that we know, like, and respect. Map out staff connections at your next team meeting to see how far your combined network extends. Develop a plan to meet new individuals who have potential to create future partnerships.


Stop bad mouthing individuals and departments. Don’t be quick to judge decisions or make assumptions about motives without trying to understand constraints, rationale, history, and purpose. If you’re unsure about something happening outside your area, ask! And don’t bash the efforts and accomplishments of others–a consistently negative attitude will make collaboration impossible and drive good people away. Instead, look for opportunities to publically praise. If you are a positive force, people will look to collaborate with you, and you’ll gain a reputation as a bridge builder.


Assemble staff from all levels and functional departments to meet regularly and eliminate systems, processes, and obstacles that are preventing the larger organization from achieving excellence. Participants should not be appointees–have people apply and describe their motivation and their potential contribution toward unification. Front line staff and senior level staff must be equally represented to form a balance between executive vision and “on the ground” reality. The team must also have the ability to ask tough questions and the authority to affect change without hindrance or resistance from those seeking to protect the status-quo of their respective silos. Admittedly, this practical tip will require much more effort and buy-in at different levels of the organization for implementation, but we should not shy away from ‘big picture’ efforts to make critical connections. Making change is about both small steps and big leaps.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one” ~Mr. Spock


Everyone knows that “knowledge is power.” In silos, knowledge is guarded to prevent other silos from gaining power. Social media can be a leveling tool that allows organizations to subvert silo communication through knowledge sharing, relationship building, and collaborative efforts across cross-functional teams. Having conversations and sharing data through virtual networks, blog posts, chat rooms, wikis, and Google-shared documents allow users to control (and hopefully increase) dialogue and cooperation.


When you communicate broadly, everyone can identify unifying messages. Share your successes at bridge building at larger organizational staff meetings, conferences, or social gatherings so that people across the organization can celebrate accomplishments, learn about current challenges, and understand vision and values. You may not have the power to set policy and vision for your organization, but your efforts can identify and reinforce the importance of all members of the larger organizational community. Perhaps even host an informal gathering across units to provide the opportunity to catch up with colleagues from different areas and develop new relationships.

Question: Can you identify silos in your organization and what actions have you taken to break them down?


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Posted on by Tony Doody in Networking