Silos within companies, spanning departments and divisions, have always been one of the biggest hurdles for overarching change processes. Lars Linnekogel, Managing Director of management consultancy TTE Strategy, explains why the new working world during the pandemic is – surprisingly – an opportunity to break down the often-massive resistance of these silos and successfully establish and implement lasting change.
“It may seem counterintuitive to tackle silos within companies right now,” says Lars Linnekogel. “At a time when working models have changed completely, people are not immediately available, meetings have to be conducted virtually, and the sense of individual burden has significantly increased. But this is exactly where the opportunity lies: Nobody is locked away in their fortress. The former silos are now physically separated from one another. And over the past few months, managers and employees have been provided with the right tools and have accumulated brand-new experiences that are a requirement for this task. This is why it is advisable, in the wake of this enforced momentum, to tackle this difficult task now and to link it to the immediate implementation of key change initiatives.”
Business trips barely ever take place; even moving around within the company is often reduced as far as possible. “This automatically leads to an increase in availability for all involved,” says Lars Linnekogel. “Whereas it used to take three weeks, hatched in various hallways, to bring together different departmental and divisional managers, management representatives, and transformation project leaders, this can now be accomplished much more easily. Excuses like an important client meeting that came in recently and cannot be neglected largely disappear.” Because of this, companies not only enjoy a higher attendance rate at meetings; they can also be more quickly scheduled, extended, moved, and resumed with follow-up discussions. Linnekogel says: “This brings a new dynamic to meetings, the decisions to be made, and the underlying implementation. They no longer fall down the pecking order of priorities, as happens all too often when attendance rates are low, in favor of subjects concerning ongoing operations.”
Virtual meetings were also possible before the pandemic; companies already had the technology. “But to be honest, they were only used in exceptional circumstances when there really was no other option,” says Lars Linnekogel. “Otherwise, classic business trips were preferred.” This led to a situation where, in spite of the existence of tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, barely any real and broad experience was gained in this area. “Right at the start of the pandemic it was clear how inexperienced we all were in using this new possibility. This has changed: Videoconferencing, chat, Messenger, virtual room booking, participant invitations, organization without involving several assistants. This is no longer just a toy of Generation Z. It has also become second nature to experienced management.” This now makes it possible to choose precisely those participants for meetings who are really relevant – regardless of where they are physically sitting. “There is also no longer any need to discuss whether the meeting should take place in the production, HR, or marketing department and who thereby gets a kind of ‘domestic authority.’ New technology levels everything out and therefore reduces that silo feel considerably.”
Connected with this is the fact that digital tools are now used actively for collaboration, for example software for mind maps or for project management based on KANBAN, which everyone has access to and for which anyone with authorization can provide input so that change processes can be influenced immediately. Lars Linnekogel says: “The days of the flip chart that would be photographed afterwards on cell phones and then converted to PowerPoint separately by several departments have come to an end. And with this, the possibility of constantly interpreting things differently and in new ways. With the aid of the new tools, those involved in the change projects really do work together in real time. There are no longer varying results depending on the perspective of the department. There is a shared outcome. This leads to silo boundaries losing their relevance. And those involved feel less like representatives from their department, and more like real, integral components in this new change group.”
In many companies, the idea of “empowerment” – the ability of employees to make their own decisions at their level without the constant need to take this decision to their superiors – has been around for a number of years. “However, this is only moderately successful,” says Lars Linnekogel. The reason for this: traditional management systems. “And physical proximity, too,” asserts Linnekogel. If people are able to pop next door and see the departmental head to get a decision, this often leads to hedging – not wanting to take personal risk. Lars Linnekogel says: “The fact that the departmental head can affect the quality of the decision negatively due to being less familiar with the detail is consciously accepted.” This situation is also fundamentally different in the new working world. Linnekogel: “Decisions can be made in the work groups themselves, which are working actively on results with the collaboration tools mentioned here. It would be highly inefficient if each person first went off to ask the opinion of their departmental or divisional head. In fact, consensus decisions between those involved should be taken in real time in order to maintain the dynamic of the digital process. This gives the idea of ‘empowerment’ completely new meaning. And leads to employees being considerably more motivated regarding their shared work.”
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