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Leadership Tips for Cross-Silo Success


Tue Apr 16 2013


The Forbidden Shortcut to the Agility and Speed That Gets Results

(From Forbes)--Management silos are where innovation dissolves in layers of hierarchy. Great business ideas go wasted every day because employees don’t know what to do with them, and those employees are afraid of wasting company resources trying to figure it out. Here, Nancy Dearman offers some ideas for leaders who want to break down those barriers and encourage employees to cross silos and act on those ideas.

We all know silos within organizations provide essential infrastructure, allowing organizations to function. We also know that the walls of these silos can be barriers to innovation, as well as a root cause of business dysfunction. As a leader, you can enable the quick action required to take advantage of opportunities.


Here’s an example of the impact silos have on everyday business opportunities.

Jane, a sales manager in a product division of a large retail company, noticed a recent trend in her sales data. An increasing number of orders that include her product have very high transaction totals, suggesting customers are purchasing other products the company sells. Upon digging deeper into the specifics of a few of these orders, Jane sees that these customers were ordering a product offered by another division of her company.

Asking a few targeted questions of customers, Jane realized that they were using the products together to solve a problem, but the combined products were cumbersome to use. The light bulb clicked on! Jane’s company had an opportunity to create a completely new product that combined the best features of both products, while removing those features that made them cumbersome for the customer to use together.

What are the chances that Jane, buried deep in the sales organization, will be able to use what she has learned to help get this new product to market before a competitor does? In an ideal world, Jane tells her boss, who tells her boss and so on. Then at the right management level, the managers of the two silos agree the new product idea holds promise and decide to combine resources, both people and budget, to develop and market the product. But it is not an ideal world and Jane’s boss needs her to meet her current sales goals, not worry about products that don’t exist. At the upper levels of the silos, even assuming it gets that far, managers are competing with each other for resources, so combining them may be highly unlikely.

Scenarios like this are happening all over our hierarchical structures for very good reasons. The very structure we have created to operate efficiently and effectively today gets in the way of what we need to do to innovate for tomorrow.


As a leader, how do you create a structure and culture that allows and encourages employees to reach outside the boundaries of their silos? To create the “operating system” within your organization which can allow someone like Jane to have her product idea aired, here are three barriers you can start to crack:

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