The one with silos and turf wars

Last week I attended a conference entitled “Connectivity: The Competitive Edge”. It was organised by Hodes and had some great content and some really interesting attendees (me for one!) I’m sure with further reflection a few more posts will appear from this event but the first revolves around a session which was focussed at presenting back some research on Silos in organisations.

The survey was of 210 HR professionals – 25% HRDs, 25% HRBPs, and 50% HR Managers in UK businesses of which 75% had over 250 employees. The research was commissioned by Hodes for the conference and carried out by Personnel Today online (credit where it’s due and all that!) and Rebecca Holland from Hodes and Noel O’Reilly from Personnel Today did an admirable job of presenting back the results.

Some summary outtakes from the research

When asked how prevalent silos were in their organisation, the responses were:

45% said either extremely widespread or fairly widespread whilst 47% said exist in places. Only 8% answered either fairly rare or extremely rare.

Highest instances were functional silos, geographical silos, hierarchical silos, cultural silos and when compared for their presence versus how challenging they are then functional and geographical were the highest

The lists of impacts (in order with %s shown in brackets)

  • Effort duplicated across the business (80)
  • Cross functional opportunities not exploited (80)
  • Lack of knowledge sharing (71)
  • Lack of employee engagement on companywide initiatives (63)
  • Poor internal comms (53)
  • Increased bureaucracy (48)
  • Systems functioning poorly (42)
  • Low employee engagement with corporate brand (35)
  • Restriction to career progression (27)
  • Low productivity (22)

Changes to improve: (in high/low order for will be attempted/are being attempted)

  • Internal comms strategies
  • Structured reform and change
  • Information sharing
  • Measures of collaboration and engagement
  • Engaging employees across the org in prod/process development
  • Implementing shared systems
  • Cross departmental sales/working incentive programmes
  • Cross company mentoring


So in summary (non-scientific):

  • We’ve all got ‘em
  • They make the business be less than it could be

Obviously there was a lot more information contained in the presentation and would imagine a begging e-mail to either Hodes or Personnel Today may just get you a copy but for my part I was surprised at some of the things that didn’t appear.

Let me give that some context, having worked in several organisations of different cultures and sizes the things I would have expected to appear in terms of changes to improve would be:

  • Singular focus on customer/service/output of the organisation
  • Shared and complimentary performance targets (KPIs don’t conflict)
  • Whether top down or bottom up: all objectives ‘speak’ to the singular focus
  • Leadership is anti-silo
  • Cross functional projects/groups are common/encouraged/defacto

One of the businesses I worked in had very few silos and in reflecting on why I think the honest answer is silo mentality was unacceptable. If you were ‘caught’ demonstrating silo mentality it was frowned upon and in escalation the support would always be for the cross functional solution – when it came down to it the CEO believed the organisation was better by working together and would metaphorically ‘bang the heads together’ of those that didn’t.

Any other reactions to this data? Any other stories to share – either positive or horror?


Any errors or ommisions in the data are mine in transcription from the conference pack and not in the original work




Filed under Uncategorized

2 responses to “The one with silos and turf wars

  1. Silos always show that there is a lack of meaningful collaboration. In every circumstance I’ve ever seen the silo is created by senior management either deliberately or as a consequence of the behaviours they exhibit.

    For all the effort each organisation might put into breaking down the silos, it is only ever resolved through senior management. More specifically, through senior management working together as a healthy, functioning team.

    The schemes and strategies above are all valid but none will endure and truly change silo’d culture without the anti-silo leadership you mention and within that teamwork!

  2. I have facilitated many large teamwork development events. I have noticed that when team divide into smaller units to accomplish the task, as they often must, they almost always form themselves into ‘silos’ within moments. I mean they quickly lose awareness or interest in what others are doing, so they do not co-ordinate. They frequently compete when they clearly need to co-operate.

    Often, the people whom we are helping to develop have expressly said that a thing that frustrates them is the silo mentality in heir organisation. They seem to believe that it has been imposed from above, making them victims, yet they do it to themselves repeatedly without any external influence at all. And still they do not recognise that they are doing it to themselves, entirely on their own initiative. Except in some places further North…

    Nearly all the team development that I have done has been with British or US teams and it is about them that I was thinking. I am now the UK partner of a Finnish consultancy ( In Finland, Sweden and Norway it is different. Very different. They genuinely team in ways that few British or American managers seem able to conceive. That leads me to wonder if the ‘siloisation’ is a deeper cultural force that i beyond conscious choice. My children went to school for two years in Sweden. Scandinavian and Finnish education is fundamentally different by being essentially team based. Because their society believes fundamentally in the team model.

    In the UK and US there seems to be a concern that the team approach reduces personal accountability. We seek individual heroes or people we can blame. In the Nordic countries (and Japan intriguingly) this thinking simply does not compute. The team approach and personal accountability are seen as different sides of the same coin that reinforce each other.

    In Sweden when we spoke about this, a number of Swedes wondered if their old history of relative poverty, agriculture, hunting and very long snowy winters may have been factors. They say that people tended to live in small communities that would be isolated from others for weeks at a time. Getting on with your neighbour without crowding them and being fiercely self-reliant at the same time were vital, as was making the most of whatever you had in a land of scarcity. I’m wary of such simple solutions. I think there are similar tales we could tell in the US and UK, but I am pretty sure that we can learn a lot from the Finnish and Scandinavian cultures. I’m pretty sure that we won’t solve silo thinking cognitively. We need to go deeper, then practice much longer to have a real sustained effect. And the effect will be very positive when we do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s