In my previous company, where I was the CEO, we were organized around functions. Like most companies, we had different departments, including sales, marketing and publishing. That way of organizing ourselves had served us for 60 years and had delivered great results in terms of productivity. But then the speed of change accelerated. Instead of having new customer demands, new technologies, and new regulations every few years, we were facing those changes every few weeks! And those changes had an impact on our processes.
How did we get to silo thinking?
People faced more and more problems (or opportunities) that they couldn’t tackle alone anymore. They needed the support of other departments. So, naturally, people started to have meetings to align. But they hadn’t finished aligning around one topic before the next one popped up, and the next one, and the next one. As a result, people spent more time in meetings trying to align than doing their actual job.
And our centralized decision process only aggravated this inefficiency. People had to wait too long for decisions, or sometimes the decisions were stupid. By the time a decision reached the management team (if it ever did) and we made a decision and communicated it—boom! New information was available that invalidated that decision or showed that we were too far from the problem to really understand it properly.
Stress and burnouts also increased
We began to see two big tendencies. Stress and burnouts started to increase because people were working really hard for too little impact and were becoming exhausted as they tried to align. And we saw another phenomenon—silo thinking. As humans, we need to feel in control, so people started to protect themselves by focusing on their job description, their nine-to-five timetable and their own objectives. We had stress, burnouts and silo thinking.
Why? Because we were using the business techniques of slow times in these fast-changing digital times. More specifically, because we were organized around functions and had a centralized decision process.
How did we fix this?
By implementing two new business techniques better suited for fast changes. We organized ourselves in cross-functional teams around the customer and we pushed as many operational decisions as low as possible in the organization. We empowered people.
With these two big changes, people were finally able to tackle most challenges within their own departments, and the need to align or wait for decisions decreased tremendously. That is how we broke silos—not by blaming people, not by putting more pressure on everyone, not by inventing new functions intended to oversee a cross-organization process!
The results were impressive
Increased agility, increased happiness, zero burnouts, absenteeism half of the national average, double digit growth … and all that while working less.
But to make it a success, we had to change the culture and leadership habits first.
If you want to know more, I organize free Masterclasses about this topic. You can subscribe to our weekly newsletter here and we’ll keep you posted when it starts.