The Sound of Silos

by Vicki Campbell, July 2018

We have all heard about it; some of us have lived it firsthand.

A vibrant, new start-up comes to life with energy and purpose. Everyone knows one another; everyone works together towards a common goal. Communication happens on the fly, informally, at all hours of the day and night. It’s fast and it’s fun — we are a tight group, proud of what we are building.

But slowly, over time and as the headcount necessarily grows, things change.

“Us” is redefined. No longer encompassing the entire organization, it now refers to our department, our function, maybe our division. “They,” meanwhile — a label once reserved for those outside the walls of the company — denotes our coworkers across the hall.

We are still part of one organization, but the dynamics have changed. The silos, like creatures in a horror movie, have arrived.

In our industry, it plays out in predictable ways. Relevant to commercialization, it often cuts across the critical links between clinical development, medical affairs, and commercial:

  • Sometimes, the clinical team that is (justifiably) focused on completing trials that will lead to the registration of our drug might hold on too tightly to those KOL and investigator relationships that the medical team needs to establish.
  • Sometimes, and because a deep understanding of the data is, by definition, part of the clinical team’s mandate, the information might not be shared in a timely or digestible format for other team members — people who need to develop educational programs / tools / communications.
  • Sometimes, the medical team is so focused on tactical execution, they don’t have time to create a medical strategy that links the data, the educational needs, the KOL engagement, and the data gaps.
  • Sometimes, the commercial team feels the pressure to deliver plans, targets, and concepts in a timeframe that is only possible if all the other functions are able to drop their day jobs and contribute.

Almost all of the time, the appreciation for different perspectives, background, training, and fundamental professional purpose are lost.

I don’t believe it grows out of arrogance or not caring; I think it’s simply the result of the drive and urgency to “get it done.” Plus, for us to be aligned in our core functional competency, we need to separate ourselves from the distraction of other groups’ needs.

We Need More Bridges

The importance of creating “collaborative work environments” within companies forms the basis of numerous leadership books, countless consultant-led workshops (loud cheering!), and any number of technology tools (we love Smartsheet, Zoom, and Dropbox). The problem of information silos and the damage they can do is well recognized. And yet they persist.

Whether the result of fast growth, the predisposition for certain personality types to congregate in their respective functions, the human behavioral tendency to view the world as “us vs. them,” or something else entirely, the silos continue to pop up. In doing so, they harm the efficiency and speed with which we develop and make available the life-saving drugs that we work so hard to provide. And, these silos sap so much darn energy!

So how do we weaken the silos (or minimally see them)?

For me, it comes down to calling it what it is and then building bridges… between departments, between functions, and between the varying cultures within our respective organizations. We must respect the unique contributions of each “tribe,” while literally and figuratively linking them together.

That may include such things as:

  • Making new product planning (NPP) part of the program team early (if you would like a good job description for NPP, reply here and we will send you one).
  • Increasing clinical / medical / commercial dialogue through means both formal (e.g., global brand teams) and informal (e.g., lunch and learns).
  • Sharing the vision for the overall program as well as the vision for your function with other parts of the organization. (Do you know the 2018 goals for your peer functions?)
  • Defining, at a high level, the overall brand strategy and the means by which each team will contribute.
  • Approaching the various teams and functions as equals on the path to successful commercialization efforts. Acknowledging that all are necessary and no one is superior to another.
  • Sharing insights openly and with transparency (compliance assumed), to help everyone make the best decisions possible.

Silos seem to occur organically as organizations grow and we, as humans, make good on our natural tendency to view the world as made up of insiders and outsiders. I’m not naïve enough to hope we can overcome millions of years of evolution quickly or in the near-term.

That said, these divisions, particularly as they relate to communication and collaboration, are a drag on the systems and processes we work within. It’s in our collective best interest to recognize this and mitigate it wherever and whenever we can.

Your thoughts? How have you managed to keep the silos at bay within your organization? Reply here to let me know.