Silos & the Human Collective: Be a Human Wikipedia

“Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

The human information collective is vast and powerful. Access to centuries of technical innovation and social progress allows communities to build great cities, fight disease, and continue to improve the quality of life. Mankind’s ability to record and share information is the reason why we are able to build stronger and better lives. We don’t need to spend time or resources reinventing the wheel, but we can make the wheel more cost effective, sustainable, and sophisticated.

These principles remain true in the business world. There is a demand for stronger teams that prize values like collaboration or transparency as companies diversify in the global market and need a growing number of different perspectives. A well-functioning, modern team has the ability to quickly relay information that aligns with the company’s ultimate shared vision and continues to profit from previous success.

Why then does it seem like many teams spend so much time re-creating a process or project that is a blueprint of last year’s initiative? The quiet killers of collaborative success are organizational silos, defined as the mindset and behaviors of not sharing information across departments, teams, and co-workers within the same company. Working in a silo limits perspective, restricts the flow of communication, and creates a culture of Us versus Them. Perhaps key people are not included in important conversations, internal referrals are not introduced, and interdepartmental deadlines are consistently missed – there is a lack of trust and unproductive conflict.

There are a number of reasons why an organization can adopt a silo prone culture. In some cases, the business experienced accelerated growth and management is simply not accustomed to formally sharing information. The business may be in a reactive mode with no time for strategic thinking and of course personal ego plays a large factor in the strength of a silo. No matter the original cause, organizational silos cost a business productivity and profitability.

Dismantling a silo is not easy, and it starts with self awareness and commitment to action from leadership. The best and most inexpensive way to increase interdepartmental communication is to to model your leadership after the largest human information collective on the planet: Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a far from perfect information source that can be edited and added to by experts and enthusiasts around the world. There is no actual incentive for the Wikipedia author except to supply information that will help others. The information is always accessible and there is no membership fee, no part of the website is confidential. The website also strives to be truthful and seeks to avoid censorship of sensitive information. Best of all all, when a page is incorrect, it can be edited.

As a leader it is important to communicate overall vision and create clarity even if there seems to be no personal gain. Be transparent in moments of success and failure and of course be flexible to changing perspective and action when new information is shared. Most importantly use the tools that will help you achieve the most success – your team members. Make information readily available to them so together you can keep the wheel rolling and go farther than one person can alone.