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TravelGuides – ‘Change fatigue can kick in’: how to tackle business silos effectively | Let’s workflow it

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TravelGuides – ‘Change fatigue can kick in’: how to tackle business silos effectively | Let’s workflow it

New initiatives being introduced without warning, lots of duplicated effort, or teams just not communicating with each other: these are the hallmarks of a siloed organisation. And while silos are not uncommon, they can be crippling if not properly managed or addressed.

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“Silos exist in every business, because traditionally businesses tend to structure themselves around functional departments,” explains Nerys Mutlow, who works as an innovation evangelist for ServiceNow, a leading digital workflow company. “But it can create a real lack of accountability and a ‘throw it over the fence’ mentality. Effectively, silos lead to a lot of unproductive work and complexity.”

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Unfortunately, it seems the pandemic has further entrenched these organisational silos. Early research suggests that silos have increased and collaboration has declined. A Microsoft poll of approximately 9,000 managers and employees across Europe found that 82% of leaders believed their companies were at least as productive as pre-pandemic, but felt more work was being done in silos. Coping with increased silos was one of the top three challenges associated with working remotely. That’s had an impact on innovation – only 40% of those surveyed believe their companies are highly innovative, versus 56% in 2019.

Tackling silo mentality
According to management consultant Ian Robson, the problem is that, while organisations are facing renewed pressure to keep up, silos slow the pace of change. “Internally, managers and staff continually argue as to who should have done what and when. Problems are often buried rather than addressed. You’ll often see low morale and low performance.

“Silo mentality is not automatically reduced by casual meetings in the office,” he adds, “but remote working will definitely create challenges in organisations with a silo mentality.”

To tackle this, he says businesses should aim to create more of a horizontal structure with cross-disciplinary teams, rather than work being delivered top-down. “Being service-focused rather than process-focused automatically creates collaborative, high-performance working,” he says. “Silo mentality can be rapidly eliminated once everyone realises their responsibility to provide services to the standard needed by the customer.” The goal is to deliver frictionless workflows across all business areas and functions.

It’s a cultural change that can be aided by the next generation of workflow technology, powered by machine learning. As more routine tasks are automated, employees are free to focus on more creative, responsive tasks that take more time and involve cross-team collaboration.

Access to data and trend analytics, such as response times, also helps to drive improvement, and the best systems make suggestions for efficiencies along the way. “If you don’t give people a simple way to access whatever they need to do their jobs, you’re making them inefficient,” Mutlow says about the best way to tackle silos. “Start by looking at those high-value, highly complex journeys: where is the biggest impact in your organisation? What generates revenue? What makes you relevant to the customer? And collect data around how these processes are performing to identify the bottlenecks.”

Closeup side view of group of mid 20’s mobile application developers testing the code and fixing the issues.
Managers have to show leadership to create teams that are working across barriers. Photograph: gilaxia/Getty Images

There’s also a need to focus on the human element of any transformation, according to Blaine Landis, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at the UCL school of management. In a study of more than 2,000 global teams, organisations with “cultural brokers”, who work to connect teams to each other, significantly outperformed diverse teams without one. These brokers can operate as “bridges” or “adhesives”.

“Brokerage is about being able to communicate and interact in very different social worlds to get people to form connections across boundaries,” Landis says. “A bridge would be someone who has good working knowledge of people on either side of the boundary and can translate between them … Adhesives know that people have common interests but aren’t yet connected.”

He adds that “perspective taking, cultivating a sense of curiosity, and paying attention to the informal patterns of interactions in the workplace” can all help tackle silos and encourage innovation, and recommends not just looking at the functional groups within an organisation but also the people who interact with one another on a more informal basis.

The role of managers in leading change
Managers also have a critical role to play, Robson says. This can often be the most challenging part of tackling silos.

“Managers have to change into leaders and create teams that are working across barriers,” he says. “Generally, managers believe the problem is the behaviour of their people. They want to know: ‘What actions do I have to take or what responsibilities do I have to delegate to change other people?’ Rarely do they want to ask the question: ‘How do I have to change the way I think about the culture?’”

He recommends starting small by creating a cross-disciplinary team to focus on one key measure of service performance. That model can then be rolled out to other teams to tackle other issues, and eventually employees will operate like this of their own volition.

Mutlow agrees a shift in thinking at the leadership level is essential. “Managers are retrospective and directive, whereas a leader creates that vision and gives people the environment to utilise their skills and experience to contribute towards that goal. They’re two very different skill sets.” She’s also found it helpful to recruit team champions to create buy in. “In any large organisation, change fatigue can kick in. If you can get those who are most cynical about it to buy into your way of working, and you give them the autonomy to drive forward their contribution, that helps a lot.”

Ultimately, dismantling silos is a continuous effort that goes hand-in-hand with transformation, she adds. “And when you think about transformation, it’s a permanent state of reinvention. We’ve got to stop thinking about it as a project that stops. It’s never going to stop.”

Empower people with digital workflows and wherever work goes, make it flow. Find out more at servicenow.com/uk

TravelGuides – ‘Change fatigue can kick in’: how to tackle business silos effectively | Let’s workflow it

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