On a farm, silos are a valuable structure for storing materials and protecting them from external threats. Silos can also exist in business families. However, in a business family, silos are psychological and, at times, physical barriers used to store power and isolate something from the rest of the organization. Silos often are simply focusing on one’s self to the detriment of the family, the business, and a collaborative environment. It could be in the context of multiple business divisions, or separate locations, or distinctly defined tasks that results in isolation. These silos in a business family can have a number of detrimental consequences, including driving wedges between individuals, minimizing communication, and preventing collaboration.
There are no clear paths for the construction of these silos, nor are they built overnight. Silos don’t necessarily develop intentionally or from malicious intent. Operating in silos often happens gradually over time and can lead to individuals operating their own pieces of the business without input or collaboration with the rest of the business. Sometimes, silos are a mechanism to avoid difficult conversations or address difficult relationship issues. They take shape over time and can result in mistrust and isolation.
Recognizing silos in the business family requires an understanding of what is happening in the short term and the long term. Redundancy is one sign that you may have a silo problem. The redundancy of work, of decisions, of tasks, of discussions and of meetings might be a sign of silos. Another sign is difficulty in reaching a family member with needed information or knowledge – or just not understanding or knowing what someone else does. Another sign is simply realizing that individuals are operating on their own without collaboration or input from the rest of the organization.
How do you break down silos? How do you keep silos from becoming fortresses?
First, recognize and admit that silos exist. You can’t begin addressing how to eliminate them until you admit they are there. Then, begin exploring why the silos developed in the first place. Revisit the business family’s core values and realize that these core values are what will keep the family together and help eliminate the silos. In addition, commit to communicating with each other, and commit to open and honest evaluation as a family.
Keep silos from becoming fortresses. Appreciate the contributions of others. Do the hard work of communicating, and provide grace, love, and forgiveness to each other on the journey of being a business family.
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