Association Management Has The Power To Break Silos

While working at a large association you have likely learned to live with silos, smokestacks, or stovepipes. No matter what you call them you know their organizational impact is the same: inefficiency, dysfunction, hard feelings, and low moral.

The conditions that created these silos are often firmly entrenched that combatting them doesn’t seem worth the effort. However good association management knows that the overall negative impact from silos can be reduced. It will likely take a big change approach with effort from every level of the association.  

With that in mind here are three strategies for that can help your association dismantle the silos.

Your association's structure should not resemble this picture.

Your association’s structure should not resemble this picture.

Operational Empathy

Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand another person’s feelings or difficulties, operational empathy is how individuals and entire functional areas identify with and understand other functional areas.

There is no doubt that this strategy is the most difficult to execute, but without operational empathy, silos will continue to rule. Use a top down approach to build operational empathy over time. From experience we know senior leaders set the tone for their functional areas, and their empathy will spread to their teams.

One way to create operational empathy is launching a monthly forum where senior leaders present their operational results, progress on major initiatives and challenges to their peers for input and assistance. Over time, each leader will gain a better understanding of their peers’ organizations. This broad collaborative approach will produce superior results, compared to a narrow, function-only focus.

Organizational Design

Look at your organizational design to determine what changes you can make to break down silos. Matrix structures require considerable effort and leadership to manage, but the output is usually better. Think about what’s worth the effort in your organization.


Big or small, every silo has a leader, and it is only through the intentional or unintentional efforts of the leader that silos are allowed to flourish. Good leaders develop, reward, and protect their staff to build a strong, cohesive and effective team.

Yet these very acts can further insulate a silo from the rest of the organization. Great leaders build a strong team with an eye on the broader organizational context and the good of the organization balanced against the good of the team.

The effort, pain and angst of changing culture to eliminate organizational silos can be immense, but the rewards may be greater than any other single change strategy you can pursue.

Next week we’ll look at more strategies your association can use to attack silos. In the meantime let us know about how silos have affected your work experience in the comments and on social media. 

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