Please enjoy this co-authored blog post from Mike Ertel, KM Attorney, Paul Hastings, LLP and Christiane Matuch, Innovation Project Manager, Greenberg Traurig.
Silos are bad.
“Silos, for lack of a better word, are bad.” That’s what Gordon Gekko would say if he were writing this article.
Organizational silos refer to the disconnect of employees or entire departments within an organization that fail to share information or knowledge—this may be intentional or not. In law firms, silos exist when different departments don’t share information and communicate, for example, there can be silos separating Knowledge Management, Human Resources, Business Development, Information Technology, and so on.
Silos are bad because when multiple departments work independently to service the firm’s attorneys, they function awkwardly like multiple random limbs working independently to propel an athlete down the track. Working together, removing silos, can help the departments function like a well-tuned athlete running at world record pace.
Breaking (or Melting At Least) Silos
So, how can we fix this? Breaking down silos is no easy task. Start with small incremental steps, get some quick wins, and you will see more willingness to work together.
We don’t intend to suggest that firm silos are purposeful, in fact, we expect that most silos are the result of either wearing blinders, or the unintentional byproducts of existing organizational structures that have not been reexamined for a long time. Assuming a silo is not purposeful, you can chip away at it—either informally or in a more formal manner.
Informal Silo Breaking
An informal route can start by simply by picking up the phone and calling a counterpart in another department:
Option 1: “Hi Christiane in Business Development, this is Mike in Practice Innovation. I am working on a data visualization project for the group we both support and there is overlap for both of us. Do you have a few minutes to discuss further?”
Option #2: “Hi Christiane in Business Development, this is Mike in Practice Innovation. I am working on a few projects for the group we support and I think there may be some synergies. Do you have some time to talk? It would be great to learn more about what you do and to tell you about what I do. We can see if there are any synergies to explore.”
Another great way to break down silos informally is to create collaboration spaces that are accessible to multiple groups. Members of one group can easily access what other groups are working on. If there is a common goal to be pursued, connections can be made.
Formal Silo Breaking
A formal route can comprise scheduling formal standing meetings among different groups with representative members of each group explaining what they do on a day-to-day basis and including their interactions with the other group, so the other group can empathize. And of course, the other group should reciprocate.
Mixing group members is another great way to break down silos formally. Invite members from other business groups to your team meetings and seek their input following the meeting. Give credit when overlap pays off.
Change does not happen quickly, but it will. Take the first step, make just one connection. You will learn a lot and have a good chance of finding creative and unique ways to coordinate together to work better and more efficiently. It is a new year, why not make a resolution to reach out to one counterpart in another group and start a conversation. No expectations. Just talk … and listen.