Leadership for Life – Down on the Farm

By on October 1, 2014
Information Silos

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Farmers use silos to store and separate their grains. The effects of mixing wheat and corn are too terrible to contemplate, so farm silos are a Good Thing. On the other hand, the creation of information silos in businesses and other organizations are Not So Good, or in some case, Bad.

Information silos are generally seen in larger organizations, with different locations or departments. They start out as functional divisions, such as Finance, Sales, or Production, but over time they become barriers to communication, as well as spheres of influence or territory controlled by one or more people. Information is power, and if you can limit certain information to a select few, that group becomes more powerful and indispensable in the organization. The main problem with silos in businesses is that people can work at cross purposes or initiate activities that fall outside the mission, vision, and values of the organization.

Great leaders have no need to hoard information, nor do their organizations thrive when information is arbitrarily limited only to those with a “need to know.” The benefits of sharing information across departments or other functional units usually far outweigh the risks.

Why do people hoard information? Often it has to do with personal power, as above. Sometimes it’s part of a syndrome that causes people never to share or let go of anything under their influence (see for example, Do You Suffer From Information Hoarding Syndrome?). Whatever the reason, it’s usually detrimental to the health of the organization.

How to combat the silo mentality?

  • It begins with hiring people who believe in sharing information. This can be ascertained by a few interview questions related to teamwork, or by using an assessment center technique, such as an unstructured group meeting.
  • As a leader, you should be modeling the sharing of information via the company newsletter, a blog, or by regular updates at meetings.
  • Establish a “war room,” in which company statistics and metrics are posted regularly for all to see.
  • Make it a habit to establish cross-functional teams to work on special projects – the more diverse the better.
  • Encourage department heads or directors to write a blog or make a regular contribution to the company newsletter (yes, you should have one) in which they update everyone on what’s in the pipeline or other newsworthy items.

Any other suggestions? Don’t keep them a secret. Send them to me at bschapiro@stlcc.edu.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

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