The MILK Crate aka Silos Challenge For Leaders

SIlos Challenge

Adventure, as you and I know it, is an experience that is very unusual, exciting or dangerous. Still, it is bewildering to see, men and women, adults in their bodies, childlike in minds, taking adventure as their mode of entertainment and risking their own lives. Take the instance of the Milk Crate challenge that has become a craze in some parts of the world and in many parts of the digital world.You take up the crate challenge, make a video, post it online  and see you and your friends failing it, others get compelled to take it too. It is not like the ice bucket challenge where it was easy to put a bucket of ice over your head. In the Milk Crate challenge, plastic milk crates that are used for milk distribution and sale are stacked on top of each other in a staircase pyramid fashion. The person, who takes the challenge, has to climb up on this high podium of crates and then climb down from the other side. As the challenge started trending on social media, platforms and doctors raised an alarm on the dangerous impact of the fall. The chances of falling and failing the challenge is very high. 

Why it is guaranteed to fail? As explained in a video by Wired, unsupported columns go through a sudden horizontal movement called Buckling. 

Column buckling is a curious and unique subject. It is perhaps the only area of structural mechanics in which failure is not related to the strength of the material. A column buckling analysis consists of determining the maximum load a column can support before it collapses.

Buckling refers to the loss of stability of a component and is usually independent of material strength. This loss of stability usually occurs within the elastic range of the material. 

A simple way to demonstrate column buckling is to hold a ruler at either end and to push your hands toward one another. The ruler will buckle at the center.

In today’s Habits for Thinking, I am urging you leaders to spend some time on thinking about the presence of silos in your  organisation. Silos, or columns in the organisation, especially in large organisations are independent teams not interacting with each other.

The Silo Mentality as defined by the Business Dictionary is a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.

Sounds like a Milk Crate challenge, isn’t it? It is true. Independent teams are great for organisations but independent, uncommunicative teams are a burden on productivity. It is an invisible force that exists to create resistance and leads to falls and failure like in the Milk Crate challenge, that can be extremely harmful for the business. Silos do not appear overnight in an organization. Organizational structures are designed to deliver key results. Organisational structures can be functional like marketing, sales, technology, delivery etc. The structure can be consumer facing if there are several product lines in a company like in banks – credit cards, consumer loans, corporate banking, SME etc. In new age technology driven businesses, the role of a product manager is to bring together consumer facing teams and backend engineering teams aligned to the business goals. The organizational structure is not designed to create columns or silos, it is designed to deliver results but yet, the teams create silos. There are primarily two reasons for it: culture and leadership teams. In today’s Habits for Thinking, I am bringing your attention to the Milk Crate Challenge in your own organisation, to look for the existence of these unsupported columns or silos, to assess the buckling load and to strengthen it. 

Accept the Challenge: 

1. The SILOS Challenge: Leadership and Unified Vision

It trickles down from the top. The pressure applied at the top leads to buckling of the column- the horizontal movement which brings a fall. It becomes critical to have a unified vision for all business heads and leaders. The integrated approach drives down the message and keeps the integration support between several teams too. A unified vision not only brings the leaders together, keeps them together too. 

2.The SILOS Challenge: Cultural brokers

To launch Times Now as the first news channel from the group, an entire new business unit was created within the Times of India group. The team, designed as an independent unit grew, moved into a new building and started rolling the business. As a beginner it needed support from the parent company across several departments.One of my functional roles was to manage and forge alliances between the old and the new business teams. Today, I would give a name to that role ‘a cultural broker.’ A cultural broker is someone who understands the cultural differences of the two teams  in an organisation and is able to forge alliances for the benefit of the two set ups. Product managers play that role between departments with an eye on the goal. 

3. The SILOS Challenge: Communicate often 

Open office space encourages a lot of informal communication within team members but what if there are separate floors for separate departments. Removing physical barriers like seating, creating watercooler moments for interdepartmental teams are some simple tools that can create frequent communication. More communication, formal and informal, leads to understanding of each other, builds empathetic inter team relationships that becomes the support for the columns. 

There are other ways of creating inter department communication opportunities.Training and learning brings people together for the common goal of the business. 

4. The SILOS Challenge: Removing data silos

Dependency on data and information to drive business decisions is critical. As data dependency grows, so does the protection and ownership of that data. Often, this creates data silos between leaders and teams. Data silos mean an incomplete view of reality. This could lead to bad customer experience, slower pace of change and roadblock to innovations.

Friction that makes teams less collaborative slows down the pace of the organisation. Data silos can be handled through software platforms which can create relevant access for different teams. 

Column buckling, the bending of a column or the failure of the column, is not related to the strength of the material. You take a steel ruler in your hand and put pressure from the top and the ruler will bend. Similarly, independent teams, in their own respective area, are very strong performing teams. But like column buckling, if teams are not supported with each other, buckling of one column or one team can crash the growth of the organisation. Organisational silos are like columns in a physical structure and can be supported by four pillars, pillars of Leadership and unified vision, presence of cultural brokers, focus on inter- team communication flow and relevant data access to teams. Invisible forces like silos are a real challenge but can be handled. 

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