How to Dissolve Silos


Government silos are legendary. The anecdotes and silo horror stories are well known. Even the management methods for breaking them down are becoming better defined year by year. Recalibrated workflows and smart strategies are only a part of overcoming crippling silos. These approaches tend to descend from management levels and staff-level uptake can be slow. Breaking down silos is not just a high-level management objective; it requires real cultural change one cubicle, one office at a time. In the trenches – in meeting rooms, charrettes, and hallway conversations – is where success is made. In the everyday, in getting projects done and meeting deadlines, dissolving silos on the interpersonal level essential for success. As a fed who works across disciplines every day, I’ve found that some simple communication and engagement techniques go a long way to dissolving the culture of silos.

However, if you are expecting answers, I would like to offer an even better tool: questions. These simple questions can help dissolve interpersonal silos at the individual level, by opening up dialogs and creating communication channels for better collaboration.

“What do you need to be successful?” How many times have you been asked this question, genuinely? It’s a breath of fresh air to ask this question in a setting where another office perceives that established workflows are overtaxing their resources. Asking the question is not a commitment of resources. It simply indicates that you are interested in mutual success and mindful of others limitations.

“This project could use a subject matter expert (SME) in your field.” Unless the size of your team needs to strictly controlled for strategic or functional reasons, err on the side of inclusion. I have literally never regretted this. This is an opportunity to learn a new perspective and to share yours with an ever wider circle. There will be an adjustment period. Your offices may not have a productive relationship right away. But the process is a marathon. Inclusion can be difficult, but it is the ultimate silo-busting act. Exclusion is easy. It’s laziness disguised as simplification.

This last question is one of my favorites. “Why not?” It’s a simple question, but often questioning the established way of doing business can be uncomfortable. Change is difficult, people are committed to their established routines, and it is easy to assume that things get a done a certain way because it’s the best way. However this not always the case. Sometimes we’ve just fallen into a comfortable rhythm. It may not be the only or best rhythm. In fact, there is always room for improvement. Asking why not tales a lot of courage, but the first step to dissolving silos is to begin questioning them – how they evolved and what’s keeping them in place.

One of the most powerful aspects of questions is that they require humility on the part of the asker and orient the person answering toward sharing. Collaboration, the opposite of silos, all starts with the simple questions above. To break down silos on an interpersonal level, try beginning with the questions instead of the answers.

How have you worked to dissolve silos? Share your experience in the comment section.

Crystal Winston is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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