Functional silos are the silent killer of business growth. They exist where the leaders of a particular function act in the best interests of that function, not the wider organisation.

Most of the time, these leaders achieve their aims through passive resistance, rather than active conflict. Signs that your organisation suffers from silos include delayed cross-functional projects, turf battles between executive directors, duplicated support functions across the organisation, higher operating costs and the fact that relatively simple operational issues regularly appear on the executive committee’s meeting agenda.

I once led a UK retailer’s store development team, and was asked by the executive team to develop, test and roll out a range of new, modern and high-performing store formats. Yet, even with an executive mandate and public promises of involvement, for two years I failed to get support from the buying teams for our work.

It was only when the Buying Director left the business that he turned to me and calmly said, “Stuart, you should know that I’ve been the blocker to your projects. I thought that they would get in the way of what I needed to do, so I made sure your plans didn’t happen!”

The key to minimising the impact of such silo behaviour is to focus on the positive cross-functional actions you can take. There is no magic pill solution, but there are disciplines you can embed. Here are 12 specific actions you can take. Together with questions you can ask yourself to see if they’re really happening:

  1. Ensure that you and your executive colleagues model the behaviours you need.

    Are your executive directors’ bonuses based on them achieving a narrow set of objectives within their departments? Or on their role in delivering the company’s broader strategy?

  2. Develop a culture of openness and trust.

    How often do your managers seek direct feedback from their peers on their trickiest issues?

  3. Get closer – much closer – to your customers.

    What percentage of your time do you and your colleagues spend with customers?

  4. Clarify programme leadership accountabilities.

    Are you clear about who is accountable for delivering your key strategic programmes?

  5. Co-locate programme teams.

    What mechanisms have you established to enable cross-functional project teams to work together?

  6. Reward cross-functional behaviours.

    How important are strong cross-functional behaviours in accelerating the progression of your top talent?

  7. Embed cross-functional career development.

    What experience have your top team had in different functional roles?

  8. Train the behaviours you’re after.

    What specific personal development activities do you have in place to help your people improve their ability to work across functional silos?

  9. Undertake periodic process reviews.

    When did you last review the efficiency and effectiveness of your cross-functional processes?

  10. Introduce cross-business mentoring.

    Who do your up and coming managers seek out to get independent and objective feedback on their personal impact and behaviours?

  11. Establish regular front-line reviews with cross-functional teams.

    How often do your front-line teams sit down with colleagues from other functions to identify and drive opportunities to improve performance?

  12. Implement knowledge management systems.

    How does your organisation share key customer insights and operational best practices?

How many of these best practices exist in your business? Which of these 12 actions could help you to eradicate functional silos?


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.