In my last article, I spoke to the importance of properly implementing Six Sigma programs. For a program to be successful, things all begin with a strong foundation. It requires commitment, focus, and vision across the organization, especially from the leadership and key stakeholders.
No matter how well we plan, structure, and support a robust Six Sigma program, there is one dark, dirty little secret that floats through many organizations that kills any opportunity for growth and success. It is the one thing leadership is oblivious to or chooses not to deal with: the silo mentality in the workplace.
The silo mentality, as defined by the Business Dictionary, is a “mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.”
The First Step is to Admit You Have a Problem
This is the hardest thing any organization can do is admit they have a problem! Many times, leaders just cannot figure out why things don’t gel, and they find ultimate success is elusive. They do endless and sometimes very painful after-action reviews to understand failures better. Those reviews typically identify plenty of blame to go around to a litany of perceived failures. Sometimes those pain points are legitimate and need to be addressed. However, more often than not, the real reasons float just under the surface in the silo mentality that exists in the organization. The first step is to recognize the organization has problems with the silo mentality, admit you have a problem, and commit to resolving the issues.
The Buck Stops Here
Leaders must understand and accept the fact that they are responsible for the silo mentality within an organization. They just don’t magically afflict an organization or somehow thrive out of sheer coincidence. The silo mentality is born and bred through the actions of a conflicted leadership team. More often than not, leaders look across the organization and make excuses for departmental inefficiencies and lack of cross-functional solutions in the organization. They chalk up the failures to immature or problematic employees, ineffective training, or simply falling back on the ‘way things have always been done.’ Leaders must understand that they have the ultimate responsibility for failure and have the strength to make a change.
Tear Down That Wall
Both the toughest and the easiest thing a leader will do is start tearing down the walls of the silo mentality in an organization. It will be the toughest thing to do because they will be faced with fierce opposition to change or acceptance of responsibility. It will be the easiest thing to do because changing the silo mentality comes through a combination of unified purpose, empowering action, and rewarding success.
Create a Unified Purpose – Leaders must create a shared vision and purpose throughout the organization from top to bottom. Everyone in the organization must clearly understand why they are here and what is expected of them. Then they must be on board! Teamwork is the key to success.
Empower to Action – Everyone in the organization must be empowered to take action to achieve the common goal. The two phrases you never want to hear are ‘That is not my job’ or ‘That is my patch, stay out.’ Leaders must ensure they empower their people to take action and initiative to achieve the common goal. Now that doesn’t mean they have the authority to do things that are illegal, immoral, or unethical. It means that they will take action to achieve success.
Reward Success – Success must be defined as achieving common goals. Everyone is accountable. If the organization is successful, then everyone is successful. You cannot have one or two “outstanding departments” while the organization is failing. Strength is found in unity and teamwork.
Break the Mindset
Breaking down the silo mindset in an organization is crucial, especially when you start implementing Six Sigma methodology, which is all about change. Change is hard when operating among the silos of an organization. The silo mindset will slowly bleed a company to death. It crushes innovation, drains assets, and drives away precious human resources which would otherwise be part of a successful legacy. Anytime you believe that your organization is free of the silo mindset, get down in the trenches and start applying the 5 Whys. You might be surprised just how things really work outside the C-Suite.