Breaking Down Silos

Defined by Merriam-Webster, a silo is “a system, process, community, department or organization that operates in isolation from others.” A colleague often reminds me, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Early in my career, I would joke that the best decision-making process is by a group of three people, with two people absent from the meeting. I certainly believed that more times than not this would lead to the best and most efficient decision-making. Patience was not a quality that I nurtured. Ironically, these days the majority of my time is spent in meetings extolling the virtues of cross-departmental and cross-sector work to achieve high-performing cultures, change lives and improve our region. Efficient decision-making has its place, but it is not always the most effective tool to achieving the end result.

When I became CEO of United Way, my organizational excellence mantra, to which I committed significant personal and team resources to, was integration, collaboration and alignment. If we could think unconventionally and work more intimately across traditional chains of command and departments, I believed we had the talent, knowledge, passion and curiosity to solve for our most difficult challenges. Working across silos is easier said than done. But the upside is tremendous. As a result of our internal departments working differently together and with an uncompromised zeal, we have been able to achieve way more than I even imagined to advance our mission locally and nationally.

One of the biggest impediments our local leaders will have to realize if our region is to become world class is how to work across our fragmented, geographically dispersed and often siloed region. I am most proud of the steps that human services organizations have taken in the last several years to align and work differently. This is not only evident in the work of groups like Wyman, For the Sake of All, Ready by 21 and East Side Aligned, but even in how local funders are aligning to build nonprofit capacity, reduce unnecessary redundancy and improve outcomes. I am encouraged that by breaking down our silos, we can help lead our community to a more hopeful future. Together we will go far.

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