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Rachel Whale



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How to break down persistent silos and connect your organisation – does training help or hinder?


A recent study of over 500 HR managers showed that silo working continues to hold organisations back and that our approach to talent development is perpetuating, rather than solving, the issue.

Silos are nothing new, and an understanding of their impact on organisational performance is widely recognised. So why do we continue to experience them, and what can we do about it? We believe the answer lies in talent, and in particular how we develop the talent in our organisations.

Our research found that only 29% of HR leaders think employees act on the skills learnt in their training programmes, and 78% say the development they provide for their talent does not have a tangible impact on the success of their organisation.

Our opportunity in this context is to rethink the way we develop talent in organisations, and to make sure that not only do we see the impact from that work, but also that it solves some of these persistent organisational issues. In light of these findings, here are 5 ways to use talent development to connect your organisation, break down silos, and stimulate changes.

1. Map the relationships in your organisation

Too often, we understand our organisations as they are on paper, whether in terms of traditional hierarchies or role distinctions. In reality, they are more often the product of the messy relationships between people, roles, departments, projects and priorities.

The more they are understood in this way, the more likely we will be to choose the most appropriate strategies to break down possible silos, disconnections, and communication issues.

We recommend the use of network analysis to map and measure the relationships and connections in an organisation. By doing this, you can not only picture and assess the relationships between different parts of an organisation, but also find ways of developing and using those connections.

2. Help your talent develop connecting skills

We were struck in our research by how, even when they recognised the dangers posed by silo working, few organisations prioritised developing connecting skills in their organisations. These skills (question-making, coaching, partnership working and systems thinking are the ones highlighted in our research) are fundamental to successful change in organisations.

Few organisations prioritised developing connecting skills in their organisations.

We recommend helping talent develop skills such as coaching. Coaching is a skillset which has gained increasing currency as a way of managing and developing people, and as a way of supporting the development of emotional intelligence, but which is continually undervalued by employers.

3. Use training and talent development to break down silos

Talent development programmes and interventions provide an unusual opportunity to break down silos, and to help organisations connect internally and externally. But too often we do not make the most of that opportunity, possibly one of the reasons our research shows a minority of HR leaders seeing the impact of programmes.

We recommend training and development programmes focus on activities that bring together people from different teams, projects or departments. Experiment with activities like action learning – a group approach to problem solving which helps people from across an organisation develop skills, while connecting with other parts of the organisation.  

4. Help your talent connect externally as well as internally

There is no point in addressing silos in our organisations if we then replicate them across industries and sectors. Equally, we know that in the face of the complex social issues that are affecting all types of employers, cross-sector collaboration will be essential.

The more talent is encouraged to connect outside the organisation, the more they will be capable of driving connection, innovation and change within their own employer.

These opportunities can be formal, such as secondments or pro bono projects, but they don’t have to demand such commitment or resource. They could be as simple as job-shadowing, or supporting employees to join and make the most of cross-sector networks.

5. Put social purpose at the heart of talent development

Employers across sectors are understanding the power of social purpose in working with their talent. There is no reason this shouldn’t extend to training and talent development.

The opportunity to be part of some bigger movement or narrative is a potent way of attracting, engaging and retaining talented staff, particularly as young people entering the workforce are often motivated by social issues.

So why not centre your development programmes around a key social issue that affects your organisation or its staff? We recommend looking at the UN’s Global Goals as a cross sector narrative for social change, thinking about their relevance in your context, and see how they could inform the content of your next programme.

Why not centre development programmes around a key social issue that affects your organisation or its staff?

Ultimately, we need to start understanding organisations as networks of people, and develop our talent in a way that promotes connection and collaboration at all levels of our workforces. By doing that, we increase our potential to create change within an organisation, and also increase our ability to have impact on the wider world.

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