If you have never read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, I can’t blame you. It is long, it is complex, and to most – it is not interesting. That being said, many of the principals it lays out govern a tremendous about of our lives – one, in particular, stands out to me as since I have started working as a marketing consultant. The Division of Labor explains that to get the most effective outputs from a group, individuals should specialize in one task. Smith uses a pin factory as an example – he broke down 18 tasks that go into making a pin, suggesting that if each worker had to do every one of the tasks, they would produce drastically less than if the team were to work together with individuals specializing in individual tasks.
We see this applied everywhere. Fast food restaurants split up the process of making a burger to deliver the food quicker, marketing teams divide responsibilities such as Social, SEO and direct marketing, an orchestra is made up of radically different instruments and football teams are made up of players with specific roles.
This process of breaking up complicated tasks into specializations, if left unchecked, can morph into a huge disadvantage. When these groups grow, it is easy for them to become isolated, leading them to evolve from the once useful specializations into silos, which can lead to huge pitfalls without proper care and attention.
When working within siloed teams, it becomes all too easy for the objectives of the individual to cloud that of the organization – a tunnel vision where teams prioritize their successes (consciously or not) above that of the wider company. Dale Carnegie’s principal of “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise”, that he spells out in his masterpiece “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has led to managers adopting this technique and lavishing praise, often publicly. This can exacerbate an ‘us and them’ mentality unless properly monitored, especially if any financial benefit accompanies the praise. Silos particularly suffer when there is a lack of clarity in company mission – that especially affects companies that have experienced fast growth and are still grappling with defining and solidifying a mission statement. The internal confusion that can be caused while the company changes prioritize and shifts direction can compound the feeling of distance between teams and leads to a sense of reflective superiority, where one group feels that they are the only ones driving the organization towards their goal.
Organizations can avoid these pitfalls by utilizing the same techniques as football teams, orchestras, and armies, however few do. A single captain, conductor, or commander – one who views every different group, individual and specialist – knows their roles, responsibilities, and objectives and has a wider view of the organization’s mission can fine tune the behavior and activities of the silos to all pull together. This unifier does not need to be an expert in every field, a basic understanding will do, what is core is the knowledge of how to bring together disparate teams and recognize the sensitivities and needs of each of the groups.
This Unifier should be the bridge that ties the various teams together, facilitating dialogue between individuals and cross-checking reports to stakeholders. Without this role – silos will become more ingrained and eventually, outputs will suffer. This is becoming ever more important as remote workers are increasing in prevalence, and larger companies are expanding internationally. Fluid communication and strong leadership become increasingly challenging as physical distance grows.
Within my field (marketing), skills are becoming increasingly divided – social, advertising, direct, PR, digital, data analytics, sales, SEO, branding, and messaging, the list goes on – without someone to integrate all the departments, and align efforts with the overall company mission, the disconnect is felt internally and by the client. Where the unifier is present, the resulting whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Let me know in the comments below how this is in your organizations, and any innovative ways you have found to combat the challenges brought about by siloed teams.