Break Down Your Silos To Build a Development Culture

Darren J. Miles is Director of Global Franchise Operations at Caribou Coffee Company. We asked him for his thoughts on the hot topic of breaking down interdepartmental "silos" and its importance to franchise development and creating a "development culture" throughout the franchise system. For more on this topic, see the first quarter issue of Franchise Update magazine, due out later this month. Here's what he had to say.

Many organizations are made up of extraordinarily talented teams in development, operations, human resources, marketing, finance, and other functions, often with each function armed with their own goals and objectives. When goals are not aligned and transparent, territorial struggles can develop, causing all kinds of problems.

Some teams may develop invisible barriers that limit the effectiveness of other people or teams that are dependent on them to succeed. Other teams may become isolated, hoarding information and secretly competing to win the recognition of leadership. Internal divides can create behaviors that often are focused on serving individual agendas at the expense of the greater goals of the company, customer, or franchisee. These silos create an environment in which collaboration exists only for the purpose of achieving one's own special interest. Under these circumstances, talented people won't stay engaged for long, and will either quit, or worse, give up.

Silos exist because of how we are trained as professionals. The majority of the workforce is schooled academically or vocationally as a specialist in finance, HR, IT, etc., and their view (including their business view, language, and behavior) is shaped by their specialization. We need "light silos," bringing the wisdom from each specialist to bear on business issues to achieve goals. We need to balance that specialization against the alienation that may occur if specialists become entrenched and speak and behave only in their unique language.

Eliminating silos, diminishing conflicts, and increasing collaboration works only when leadership leads, creating alignment on a short list of strategic initiatives, requiring transparency, rewarding collaborative behaviors, and creating trust by being trustworthy.

Our leadership came together with courage and faced the silo issue at the executive level first, and then helped the broader organization understand why change must happen and why we need to work together toward a shared list of strategic initiatives. Emphasis is placed on defining each function's role, helping them to understand the role of others, and how they can work together to achieve strategic initiatives.

Transparency is created when functional leaders marshal the development of goals that support the strategic initiatives and include key partners. How information is shared is important. Every function must be given access to the strategic initiatives, and be given an opportunity to participate in a feedback loop, as well as identify linkages and eliminate redundancy.

Great communication is germane to creating trust and enabling collaboration. Our leadership is committed to openly sharing and candidly discussing information about business performance, headwinds we are up against, and of course, the strategic initiatives, which open up opportunities for discussion. This helps create an environment in which people truly listen to one another, ask for help from both peers and leaders, and help solve each other's problems... exploding silos in their wake!

Eliminating silos and empowering innovation is a continuous process. It's never "done." Our organizational flywheel really whirls when we refine/align our strategic initiatives, communicate with transparency, reward collaborative behaviors, and create piles and piles of trust.

Published: February 6th, 2013

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