Working in silos; why businesses need to burst their bubbles

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Working in silos; why businesses need to burst their bubbles   


In your organisation, do you ever see hard-working, dedicated teams delivering their objectives in a “bubble”? 

In busy operational environments, one of the challenges we see that hinders the speed and size of payback from new initiatives is teams working with their heads down. They are driven by individual or team objectives without regard for how these meet functional or even organisational priorities.  The much-lamented siloed working. 

In our previous article, we talked about how projects compare to journeys, where those involved must be well prepared and equipped with the tools, experience and attitudes that are vital to seeing it through the ups and downs of implementation.   

In the case of the explorer embarking on a journey, there’s the upfront preparation to be done. There is also the need for constant checking in to ensure the support team are united in the help they provide.  

As an example, the physio’s skills might be at the fore to prevent injury during one part of the journey or there could be the need for a collaborative effort between the whole backroom team with changes in geographical or political conditions. Needs must – no prima donnas, simply a shared goal to complete the expedition safely. 


When siloed working goes wrong 


One of our clients had impressive plans for their supply chain. They are a successful wholesaler of FMCG products, supplying physical stores and online retailers. Their ambitious growth plans demanded a significant shift in their capabilities to support published targets and they had a very experienced supply chain team. A good start. 

Hatmill were engaged to work with them on their strategy and implementation, involving the commissioning of a new site, updated technology and a new supply chain operating model, with growth in mind. 

From an operational design and solution perspective, there was a good, well-defined vision and benefits case with associated changes in ways of working all outlined. The theory was sound, and the benefits were clearly attainable.   


The butterfly effect 


The Supply Chain Ops Director and his team described themselves as a “well-oiled machine” and operationally they were. They applied their process mindsets and drive to mobilise the project, but the challenges came as they began the migration to the new facility.  

With new teams, technology and processes there were the inevitable hiccups. The impact of these had a much broader effect on other areas of the organisation than had been planned for.  Consider the butterfly effect where a “butterfly flaps its wings in Peking, and in Central Park, you get rain instead of sunshine” [Jeff Goldblum explaining chaos theory in Jurassic Park!] 

Why siloed working dislocates teams


Whilst there had been newsletters and updates celebrating the progress of the project the teams were used to working in silos. This had gone unnoticed during the previous “steady state” years; no one was considering the possible benefits of joined up thinking for customers, colleagues and the growth of the business.   

The supply chain team’s focus was on how the change would impact them alone. So, when confronted with the need to support changes originating from the supply chain function, there was initially some resistance to adopt new ways of working (e.g. in sales and marketing) and to meeting proposed implementation dates.


Burst the bubble 


The risks of not addressing the situation quickly included:

  • Non-supply chain teams being caught off guard and under prepared to offer support to customers or internal teams during the implementation and embedding phases
  • Limited or prolonged return on investment for the supply chain strategy – improvements were adopted slowly
  • A disrupted customer experience and a lack of understanding preventing teams seeing new possibilities for the customer proposition
  • Low morale within the project team as their determination to meet project deadlines didn’t translate quickly  to the desired results 


Three activities key to a shared vision


Bringing focus to the following three activities smoothed the way to delivering the expected results: 

Unite all teams in their understanding of the big picture

  • Show the end game, the goals, and different teams’ contribution to these 
  • Set priorities to reflect what’s needed to succeed, not just to deliver project milestones 
  • Be clear that success rides on everyone playing their part well and being supported to do so 


Show the value in working collaboratively (and call out when it’s not happening)

  • Clearly identify the links between teams that make the customer proposition hang together (and show the implications of not joining the dots between different functions) 
  • Demonstrate a hierarchy in decision making – prioritise what will successfully deliver customer goals, operational goals, functional goals, then finally team goals 


Prioritise two-way, open and regular communications

  • Don’t allow “busyness” to distract from the value of coming together regularly to review   progress, check-in on how to improve, keep everyone heading in the same direction and encouraging cross-functional support in pursuit of high-level strategic and operational goals 



The value of a joined-up approach


Getting into a rhythm with these three activities didn’t take long. We soon noticed greater curiosity and questions from the broader organisation leading to specific offers of help. This led to a significant reduction in delays to get changes adopted and even suggestions for the next phase of continuous improvement. 

The investment of time and effort is minimal compared to the value seen from actively eliminating silos and being ready to address the next project or challenge as a joined-up organisation, supporting a shared vision and goal. 

In the end, if we want organisations to respond quickly to changes in market conditions and customer or employee expectations, working in silos will put them at a significant disadvantage. Which of these three actions would benefit your organisation now? 


If you are experiencing any of the issues we’ve raised in this article then please do get in touch here or click below to watch the replay of our recent webinar for more information, ideas and sharing of experience.   

Discover how to manage change to accelerate ROI on supply chain and logistics automation here.


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