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  • Writer's pictureCorinne Fenech

Breaking Down Silos with Design Thinking

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

One thing which has really kept me intrigued over many years, is that EVERYONE HATES SILOS. Everyone thinks that silos are built up by someone else, and that you constantly need to defend your patch, otherwise people will run you over like a lawn mower! Truth is that, it is exactly this attitude which builds higher and stronger silos.

Breaking Down Silos | TinkTings | Design Thinking Malta
Granite Silos at Lindoso (Peneda-Geres National Park) Portugal

In physical terms, silos are very important structures that keep their content well preserved. They have the role of being independent structures, and ensure that no harm to their content, comes from the outside in. Silo mentality in organisations works along the same reasoning. People tend to think that anything that comes from outside their silo (which may be a team, department, section etc), will spoil the content of their silo and therefore many tend to prefer to protect their silo from any outside intrusion.

Breaking down silos in larger organisations, is a nut which many try to crack, but find that its shell is made of solid steel.

Now, this article is not a typical cleaning detergent advert. The one which portrays a filthy floor, then a smiley person comes along with yet another miracle product, and with the flick of a finger the floor immediately shines with a bling!

This article provides a solution that requires at the very basis, some good will.

Design Thinking is silo destroyer, here’s why:

1. It gives a common objective. In Design Thinking people within the team all look at the same problem from one point of view - the user's. The user is not part of the silo problem. A user is outside of it, and you cannot be threatened by silos where none exist.

2. Design Thinking focuses on co-creation, and it is not an objective of the workshop to finger-point at any phase. During a workshop or a project, a problem that a user is encountering, is defined, and then people ideate together various solutions to the same issue. When people co-create, they are on the same team as opposed to pitted against each other.

3. Design Thinking Workshops are not whining parties. Attendees do not simply spill the beans and leave. They trash out real issues, and find doable solutions to sort out those issues.

Does Design Thinking permanently destroy silos?

Design Thinking workshops, are often in a way similar to team building sessions. They are great fun and create a sense of euphoria which tends to wear off a few days later, if not practiced. For Design Thinking to be more than just a fun workshop, but a true silo destroyer, it needs to be embedded into the organisational culture. Only then and with good will, can we safely say that Design Thinking permanently destroys silos.

6 tips to embedding Design Thinking into culture:

1. When the silo monster comes back to haunt meetings, put everyone on the same page by asking. “How does this problem affect our user?”

2. If you cannot talk to users, talk to some front liners, you will be amazed at the insight they can bring

3. Make meetings task oriented, use ideation techniques, allow people to draw, map out journeys and make prototypes. When people are doing things, the barriers of just talking go down

4. Have a taste of your own medicine. Use your own services in the same way a user does….no shortcuts. How does it feel?

5. Design Thinking is a fail-fast process and it is understood that some prototypes fail. Allow your organisation to accept (if not celebrate) small failures. This way people do not have to justify and defend their patch. This leads to less silos

6. Sometimes, people who are outside of the Design Thinking workgroup tend to see the people inside the group as working against their own silo and treat them as traitors. This not only does not destroy silos, but creates new ones! Celebrate people who work together and acknowledge achievements

Silos can really be a thing of the past, but just like there’s no cleaning agent which removes a mess with just one swipe, there is no magic formula which removes the mess that silos leave behind with just one workshop. Yet, with slowly introducing Design Thinking into organisational culture, together with some good will, silos can be bygones.

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