The following post on how to break down silos at nonprofit organizations was contributed by Dr. JoyNicole Martinez, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Alchemist Agency, a management consulting firm serving leading corporations, health care facilities, non-governmental organizations, and not-for-profit corporations.
Rapid, organic growth is compelling and exciting. However, unpredicted and undefined change is chaos. Online fundraising, viral social media exposure, and record breaking philanthropy has contributed to the rapid and sudden growth of nonprofits. Evidence shows teams and groups are self-organizing as a company grows. Nonprofit organizations are predisposed to this internal segregation, as funding sources and programs often compartmentalize staff and management.
How does a nonprofit continue expanding in an environment where growth can provoke structural towers and encourage the creation of company silos? More importantly, how do you begin to break down silos to improve the effectiveness of your organization?
According to the Business Dictionary, organizational silos result from a mindset or mentality. They form when members of departments or sectors operate from an attitude of distrust or competition. The flow of information within the company is halted, reducing operational efficiency and morale—and speeding the demise of a productive company culture.
Consider, for example, an organization experiencing extraordinary growth due to an innovative fundraising idea. Two cultures may develop: a fundraising culture and the programmatic culture that must now adapt and respond to a sudden change in state—the influx of resources. Rather than respond as a unified organization, artificial barriers among the two cultures foster suspicion and animosity and ultimately degrade mission effectiveness. To break down silos in the organization, this adversarial mindset of groups working at odds must change.
Fragmentation within the organization is often a result of a conflicted leadership team. Growing organizations have diversified programs and funding sources, each with a unique set of standards for achieving outcomes within budget and regulatory confines. When leaders view these distinctions as scarcity, they compete against others within the organization for resources and this frustration, cynicism, and resentment is felt within the teams. To resolve this leadership conflict:
A collaborative culture does not guarantee successful teamwork. There are crucial skills necessary to practice collaboration successfully that make an important difference in team performance. Collaboration and teamwork require a mix of interpersonal, problem solving, and communication skills needed for a group to work together towards a common goal. To break down silos, team members must be trained in:
To break down silos, leadership must model collaborative behavior and provide the team members with increased knowledge and skills to work in teams. However, failing to consciously manage the change process leads to unconscious competence or unconscious incompetence during execution. The change must be cross-functional. Members from diverse teams should not only participate and engage in training sessions together, but also collaborate to develop and administer how the change in levels of collaboration are executed.
Knowing something is going on but not understanding the details can create anxiety—provide transparency throughout the change. Collect data to measure, evaluate, and forecast success and obstacles across teams, budgets, projects, or programs. Provide access to a central system of record. Encourage feedback, sharing of ideas, best practices, and success stories across the organization and multi-disciplinary or functional teams.
By systematically working together a common goal, sharing information, and training and empowering team members, you can break down silos and change the silo mentality. This will not only change how organizational members see themselves, but how clients and customers experience the organization. Where there is collaboration and open communication, there is a consistent voice and message. This builds trust and ultimately, helps the nonprofit grow and succeed.
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