Breaking Down Workplace Silos

Wrapping up my week-long blog series on generations in the workplace, recent research shows the generations aren’t talking to each other in the workplace – which isn’t very different than in the greater culture, either. But the cost to the company can be very significant.

Mark Larson of Workforce Management recently wrote about this research by Randstad. Interestingly, Randstad found that Generation Y, the youngest group, actually outnumbers Boomers in the workforce, laying to rest the fear of a worker shortage as Boomers retire. Alarmingly, however, Randstad’s findings also show there is little to no knowledge transfer in organizations between those who hold most institutional knowledge – the boomers – to their heirs in Generations X and Y.

As reported in Bnet, a Harvard Business School research team also recently found very little interaction across three major organizational boundaries: business unit, function, and geography.

Neither finding is particularly surprising. We've seen these informational and relational silos in place for decades. The most effective way to break them down is with a simple thank you through strategic employee recognition programs that allow anyone in the organization to thank anyone else for their help, insights, above-and-beyond efforts, etc.

To foster sharing of institutional knowledge between the generations also requires giving people of the various generations opportunities to collaborate together on projects and learn from each other through the work. Then using strategic recognition programs as the mechanism to both acknowledge efforts and then, critically, communicate those contributions and capabilities to members of all generations, overcomes these barriers of distrust and misunderstanding.

Did a subject matter expert help with your project, but he's based in another country? Thank him anyway! Did you work on a team drawing from multiple offices to achieve a strategic goal? Thank everyone equitably. Recognize people when they go above and beyond and see them want to repeat the tasks. Our clients have done this successfully across multiple generations, regions, divisions and even continents.

Tell us about your frustrations or successes in these areas.

2 comment(s):

At October 11, 2008 11:20 AM, Todd Hudson said...

Amen to simple, peer-to-peer recognition programs. We instituted one at a former employer of mine with great result. HR pitched a fit when we proposed it. They feared that people would somehow reward peers for things that didn't need or deserve rewarding. That there would be "too much recognition." Luckily, sanity carried the day.

That said, our experience and research shows that most people want to share what they know with others (or learn from others), but don't know how to do it effectively. Fear of failure or earlier frustrating experiences make people less likely to reach out to others.

A simple structure and process to transfer knowledge does wonders to encourage people to work together. Teaching and learning become effective, efficient and fun.

If you'd like to learn more, check out our most recent white paper at and my blog at

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick
Maverick Institute
Boulder, CO

At October 11, 2008 12:31 PM, Anonymous said...

I know first hand how bad the worker shortage is! I have several electrical maintenance and logistical positions which have gone unfilled for over 3 months! I've posted signs, placed ads in several papers, on local supermarket bulletin boards, and There’s definitely a shortage and I can’t find workers no matter what I do!

OH, I forgot to tell you, I'm paying four dollars an hour and the job has to be done between midnight and 7 am with the workers are not allowed to take any breaks!

Have I made my point? THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A WORKER SHORTAGE! If you raise wages enough and provide decent working conditions you'll have prospective employees lining up 1/2 mile down the street for your jobs no matter how “unglamorous” the industry is. And if the wages and benefits are really enticing, people will even self-finance all the career education they need to learn the skills necessary to get the job. You don't need government grants, special "temporary" visas or “blue-ribbon” commissions. You just need to open your eyes and perceive the reality of what it takes to attract and retain personnel.

It's time to wake up and clear the sleepers out of your eyes! This "worker shortage" canard has been going on for well over a decade now. Stop whining, grow up and pay up!