Many of our clients encounter difficulties communicating and building accountability across geographical or functional silos. Often they might think that the solution is a purely mechanical one of improving regularity of communications, tightening role descriptions, clarifying products and plans etc. These are necessary but seldom sufficient!

So often we ask them to reconsider the root causes of the challenges they’re facing and to look at the quality of relating between the individuals in these groups or ‘silos’. Much of our work with senior teams focuses on the quality of the relationship they can and must create and maintain if they are to be successful. It takes courage to enter this space but the benefits are great.

One such client was a mid-sized professional and technical services firm operating in the UK with outposts in Europe who in addition to doing work locally, should have fed work into the UK and leveraged relationships from there, for adding value to their own local operation.

Our assignment was to help them build a more collaborative way of working that drew upon the strengths and relationships of the UK and European subsidiaries, rather than independent, silo operations. There was consensus on the problems – lack of alignment and too much friction in achieving less than the required performance – but little shared understanding of the causes. Rather than tackle this from a purely traditional “team work” approach we started by looking at the relationships between the two groups and the individuals. We built an environment where these could be “cleared up” i.e. issues identified and some straight talking to get any lingering concerns aired and resolved sufficiently to enable them to move forward better together.

Having established a higher level of intimacy and the beginnings of higher levels of trust we then focused on building a shared view (a shared “assessment”) of the current situation. This revealed very different sets of assumptions and some harsh and often unfounded assessments of each group by the other. Clearing up the past by sharing and understanding far better the “others’ view” enabled these groups to build far greater alignment and momentum.

In a complex web of interdependencies with several groups all needing to co-operate but also subject to very different pressures often being driven in different directions, encouraging regular communication to maintain and deepen the relationship alongside creating greater alignment is vital. And so it was here. The outcome was more authentic communication between the geographically and organisationally separate groups; an improvement in some of the key relationships leading to a greater sense of shared endeavour; and importantly an improvement in overall performance.

It wasn’t a “quick fix” and there have certainly been some continuing issues. But the progress has been steady and the company has asked us back to work with other groups and teams within their organisation over a period of several years.

So when you are faced with a team that isn’t performing to its potential we ask you to re-consider:

  • What is the level of trust between the individuals and the groups?
  • What might need to be cleared up first before you can move forward?
  • How are you going to enable that deeper and more effective “relating” to grow?

It’s easy to say, “We’re going to communicate more authentically from now on”, and another thing to actually do it. If you are finding that silos are operating in your environment, rather than collaboration, then feel free to get in touch with us to help you and your teams relate and operate more successfully.


William Wallace