The Silo Effect has had a dramatic impact on our sense of connectedness in our jobs. It can cause our teams, even ourselves, to feel stuck inside a bubble and not understand the workings of those around us. This issue has become notorious in government – I myself felt it strongly in my first position. I worked for a centralized HR office where each facet of HR was broken down into its own branch. For example, I had no clue what Classification did … a fundamental duty of HR!
This effect has only gotten trickier as we work from home and begin moving to a hybrid environment. Not only do we run the risk of isolating our work units … we are at risk of isolating ourselves from our teams. So how can we combat this as we continue to work from home? Or begin working with a hybrid team?
The first way to combat the silo effect is to recognize it. A lot of people don’t realize that a silo effect is happening until they connect with other professionals. When I began to network with other HR folks, I noticed that they did a little bit of everything: classification, recruitment, benefits, the whole gamut. I began to wonder why we split up HR the way that we did. The volume of the work was probably to blame.
Despite this, I began to feel like I was incomplete as an HR professional and discussed my dilemma with others in my organization. Luckily I was not alone in this frustration. My office noticed that some folks wanted to be able to branch out and learn about other facets of HR. This would not only help the organization with overall understanding of policies, but also with our own professional developments (and maybe make us more qualified for other positions…).
Once that Silo Effect has been identified, the next step is to do something about it. My prior organization combated our silo issues by incorporating a shadowing program for other branches. It was here that I was able to learn about what the other branches in my office did. I was able to chat with other professionals in a more structured way versus something more spontaneous and random. Both of us were prepared to learn from one another this way. While it didn’t make me a perfect HR assistant, I definitely felt much more comfortable in those areas. I was even able to understand my own duties more deeply. Having these intentional ways of connecting different divisions can help facilitate more natural collaboration when it comes to other projects down the road.
When it comes to working virtually, the silo effect can happen just because we don’t see each other as often. We don’t run into colleagues on the way to the break room – we literally only see each other in meetings (and even that’s not guaranteed). We need to be more intentional with how we make connections. Try reaching out to your colleagues via your meeting platforms (Google, Teams, etc.) and send them a chat asking how they are doing. See if you can schedule a time to have lunch together, whether virtually or in-person depending on the circumstances. Start out your team meetings with an ice breaker or a fun game. One time, my team did a “scavenger hunt” to find an item at home that reminded us of a favorite vacation. This allowed us to bond beyond just reporting on what we were working on that week.
It can be so easy to “turn off” when we’re working from home. Sure, we get the work done, but now we just hop on a meeting and work on another project and listen in. This only enhances that Silo Effect. We may not be as focused or engaged. We may not be as present with those folks on a call when we just sit in as a participant.
These can be some of the only opportunities to help us get out of that silo. Turn off your other systems while you’re in the meeting – email can wait. If you really do need to work on something during a meeting … then don’t attend the meeting! Multitasking is a myth! And turn on your camera. It may seem easy just to be off camera and attend the meeting just to get the attendance check, but having it on can help reduce that feeling of isolation and increase engagement with one another. It helps to gauge some of those physical cues that we miss when we’re just talking on the phone. And, not to mention, it holds us more accountable to pay attention!
The Silo Effect isn’t going to go away overnight. In order to help combat it and lead to a more collaborative organization, we need to exhibit collaborative behaviors as often as possible. We need to lead by example for the organization and engage with other divisions to ensure this Silo Effect doesn’t affect our work and our innovation. It may take awhile for others to follow suit and start doing this themselves. I know I’ve been in plenty of meetings and trainings where I’ve been the only one on camera. But after awhile, more people have gotten comfortable with having their camera on (if they can … if only we all had perfect bandwidth!).
It’s going to take some time, especially as we move to a hybrid workforce and figure out yet another new normal. But it all starts with figuring out that the Silo Effect is happening, recognizing how it affects us, and brainstorming ways that we can work together to combat it. Be the change you want to see with your group.
Myranda Whitesides (She/Her) is a Performance Support Specialist for the Interior Business Center, the Department of Interior’s Shared Services Center. She conducts personnel and payroll systems training for over 50 federal agencies, as well as providing training in Diversity and Inclusion for her peers. Myranda also serves as the Education Co-Director for the Mile High Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), coordinating Educational content for Human Resources professionals in the Denver Metro area. Myranda also enjoys singing, camping, and exploring local breweries and restaurants with her husband, Daniel.
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