departments are better used for focusing talents, not establishing fiefdoms

How to spot a silo

Departmental silos are still one of the biggest problems at credit unions, and I am always surprised when a CEO is unaware of them.

Maybe it is because I grew up around small rural midwestern towns. Every day you would see silos outlined against the sky, dwarfing the other farm buildings. It was common knowledge that these tall, windowless tubes of metal were used by the farmer to store food for his livestock, the shape of the container creating a pressurized area that kept its contents tightly packed, away from any outside elements.

Later on, when I learned about silos in business, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that these structures were also usually kept densely packed, with no way to look in or out, and not a whiff of fresh air.

It’s usually pretty easy to spot such a silo. It is usually a department that sees themselves as having one primary function. They don’t share priorities or goals with everyone else, and Heaven Forbid that they actually explain what they are doing, listen to suggestions, collaborate, or share information with anyone else. Their purpose, their work, like their chunk of the budget, is sacrosanct.

Not only does this mentality hurt the efficiency of any organization, it can also kill any cooperation that may be trying to grow organically.

Silos typically occur because of how an organization is structured. It’s an organizational way of thinking; Managers are responsible for results from their area only. They aren’t encouraged to cooperate or communicate with everyone else, nor are they taught why it is important to do so.

Thankfully more and more CEOs are beginning to understand that communication between all departments is critical to the organization, that departments are better used for focusing talents, not establishing fiefdoms.

So the next time you decide to update your web site, be sure that IT, Marketing and Member Services have an equal say. When you think about renaming or rebranding, get the front line staff involved as well as the Board and Executive Team.

After all, it takes a lot of people working together to tear down all those silos.

Kent Dicken

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