"They never told us."
"We're always the last to know."
"They only call us after things have gone wrong."
Do any of those phrases sound familiar? Historically, food safety and quality professionals have reported feeling left out, left behind, or viewed as show-stoppers at some point in their careers. The lack of communication and awareness are classic signs of siloed functions within an organization that lead to low morale, low engagement, reduced productivity, and even stunted innovation.1
As with any problem, if there were only one contributing factor, the problem would already be solved. The same holds true for siloed work. Let's explore why.
Humans have a fundamental need to label and categorize things in order to understand them. Early humans identified things such as friends, foes, food, and poison as part of their basic survival. This basic filing system is used everywhere. Just look at Bergey's Manual, where even the tiniest of things have been grouped and regrouped by "extensive descriptive information of the taxonomy, systematics, physiology, ecology, and habitats" in order for us to understand them.2
Grouping has benefits to sort and specialize. Imagine walking into a home improvement store to find nails, without having a hardware aisle. The same happens at work, where experts or functions tend to flock together so that other people know where to find them. At times, these expert groups are thought of like "brain trusts" and brought together to "solve the unsolvable" in their areas of expertise. Within the group, individuals know whom to talk to, how people like to work, and what the process is, and they can get things done. Being efficient and productive through creating brain trusts has benefited organizations for years, which is why many are still structured around functions.3
Consider this: if companies were not organized in some manner, whether by function, geographical location, or some other factor, work would be like a mosh pit. Everyone would be jumping in, and no one would know who was supposed to catch what, or which way the group was moving. Work would be chaotic, inefficient, and even more challenging than it is today. This is a reminder that groups have a purpose.
It is when we start trying to solve problems or take on challenges that need to be crowdsourced, yet we are still working within a single group, that we run into problems. In the food industry, that makes up a big portion of problems and challenges.
To reap the benefits of brain trusts and crowdsourcing, it takes strong leadership to model the behaviors to support that culture. Leadership needs to drive for alignment on goals, shared goals and metrics, clarity in roles, expectations around working together, transparent communication, and developing people.
You are probably wondering, "what can I do to make an impact and break down silos?"
It is a valid question because you, too, have contributed to the silos you see. While this may not be intentional, it is usually due to training. The reason people struggle to have influence and break down silos in food safety and quality is because we are people who have been highly trained in science, not leadership. Leadership development is not a top priority for most organizations, as shown by the U.S. Bureau of Labor's report in 2018 that found, on average, companies gave employees only 12 minutes of manager training every six months.4
Training helps, of course, but it is not the only answer. Our industry knows that annual training checks the boxes but does not move the needle on behaviors, and the same applies to leadership development. Becoming a stronger leader is not about training; it is about exploring, practicing, reflecting, and being curious about your behavior and the other people around you.
If you are tired of siloed behavior, then you have to do something different. To get different outcomes, you need different skills. The skills that brought you and your team here are not going to be the same as the skills you need to break down silos. Invest in leadership skills for you and your team. It is mind-blowing to consider that 41 percent of business leaders believe that their organizations fail to meet needed leadership standards,5 yet development is often first to go when budgets are cut. Be an advocate for specific, applied, progressive leadership development programs, as that level of comprehensive support translates into a 218 percent improved profit per employee.6
Being stronger leaders who easily discern when brain trusts are needed, yet know how to effectively crowdsource, shows the business that food safety and quality is a valued business partner. It turns "They never told us," "We're always the last to know," and "They only call us after things have gone wrong" into "We're working together better than ever." Not only will this translate into improving morale, engagement, productivity, and innovation, but it will also translate dollars to the bottom line.
- Mind Tools. "Breaking Down Silos at Work." https://www.mindtools.com/ati8zdn/breaking-down-silos-at-work.
- Bergey's Manual of Systematics of Archaea and Bacteria. Wiley, September 2015. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/book/10.1002/9781118960608.
- Pearson, Nicola. "Working in Silos." Ideagen. May 27, 2021. https://www.ideagen.com/thought-leadership/blog/working-in-silos.
- Tschohl, John. "Are You Worth More Than 6–12 Minutes of Training?" HR.com. April 13, 2018. https://www.hr.com/en/magazines/talent_management_excellence_essentials/april_2018_talent_management/are-you-worth-more-than-6---12-minutes-of-training_jfxtvwho.html.
- Deloitte. "Leading the Social Enterprise: Reinvent with a Human Focus." 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends. https://www2.deloitte.com/ro/en/pages/human-capital/articles/2019-deloitte-global-human-capital-trends.html.
- Robinson, Ryan. "3 Ways Leaders in the Workplace Can Create More Time for Deep Learning." Forbes. May 3, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanrobinson/2019/05/03/leaders-workplace-create-time-deep-learning/?sh=6b60ffd8b462.