In-house Issues: Silo Sickness

“The problem isn’t the culture,” one of them told me. “The problem is that there wasn’t any culture. There are silos. Everyone is separate. People cut their own deals, and it’s every man for himself. A lot of people made a lot of money that way, and it fueled jealousies and efforts to get ever better deals. People thought of themselves first, and then maybe the bank, if they thought about it at all.”

-Anonymous UBS investment banker

The above quote excerpted from an article by James B. Stewart in this past Saturday’s New York Times business section, is a chilling description of the cause of many of UBS’s recent ethical and legal transgressions. It is also a cautionary tale for any in-house designer who chooses to drink the corporate kool-aid if one of its ingredients is the embracing of departmental and individual silos and the turf wars this practice encourages.

For a designer who accustomed to the value of collaboration but is walking into a corporate environment of siloed individuals and departments, it may be easy to assume that the compartmentalized culture they’re witnessing is the appropriate business model since everyone is practicing it. It’s not – and there lies the opportunity for in-house designers to change that culture by offering a more efficient, productive and healthy alternative that is based on open communication, shared goals and collaboration.

Design is not just about the creation of artifacts. It is a process that can be applied to many other activities beyond the printing of brochures and the launching of websites. The behaviors and practices it embraces are effective antidotes to the poisonous culture that exist in far too many companies.

The dual challenges are first, ensuring that in-house teams don’t adopt the silo mindset and second, pushing the design process out into the rest of the company. Recognizing that the rest of the company isn’t getting it right is probably enough validation for the team to inoculate themselves from the poor business practices that exist in the organization where they work.

Infusing other departments with the design mindset and its accompanying practices is the tougher proposition. It will most likely be an incremental build with in-house designers leveraging their relationships with their clients to educate and more importantly demonstrate to them the value of the design process. The next step would be to then choose strategic partnering departments such as Marketing or Procurement and do the same with their staff.

None of what’s being advocated here is essential to any in-house team’s success at providing creative services for their company. The payoff, though, is much more far-reaching and critical to an organization’s success than any ad or poster an in-house team might create.