Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Organizational Silos and Effective Collaboration

Hey everyone! So I recently read this article about the dangers about what the author terms, "organizational silos" and how they impede innovation. He approaches it from a very corporate perspective, but I think that this concept of "organizational silos" is very important to understand in order to facilitate the collaboration we're aiming for with the Tutor/Mentor Connection. We here at the Tutor/Mentor Connection agree with this article in stating that "As a system, innovation is collaborative, multidisciplinary and requires diverging viewpoints and experiences. It is also inclusive, and it is about bridging and extending linkages and interactions to build something that is greater than its parts. Organizational silos are barriers to innovation. They impede collaboration and communication outside of an organization and come in a variety of flavors, including:

Geographical Silos- which stem from difficulty in adequately sharing information and collaborating when different parts of an organization are in different geographical locations

Project Silos- which occur when best practice information isn't shared between groups working in similar ways towards similar goals

Functional Silos-
which arise when there is uncertainty about peoples' roles within an organization and lead to redundancy and feelings of underappreciation among members

Technology Silos- which occur when technology isn't or cannot be shared among members of an organization

As you can see from the above graphic (which you should click to view in full), the Tutor/Mentor Connection aims to be a pipeline for ensuring that at-risk youth receive the extra support they need to stay on-track throughout their formative years and enter careers by the age of 25.

We believe that volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs are the bridges that connect volunteers, donors and business leaders with the children, families and schools on the other side of the socioeconomic divide. We hope to connect these stakeholders through an ongoing, dynamic exchange of ideas, and ultimately to improve the availability and quality of tutor/mentor programs throughout the world.

However as you can see, these different groups of people, each of whom plays a role in ensuring these children succeed, are from a diverse set of sectors and organizations, many of whom have very minimal contact with each other. Therefore, one of our largest challenges is to break down the barriers, or organizational silos, that separate these different groups and bring them together under the common umbrella of ensuring these kids' success. Since the tutor/mentor connection is the sum of its constituent members, in discussing how to break-down or avoid the types of silos I just mentioned, it is helpful to conceive of all of these distinct groups and concepts as comprising the Tutor/Mentor Connection itself and not to consider the Tutor/Mentor
Connection a standalone program like Cabrini Connections, our tutor/mentor program, because it is not.

In order to tear down these silos and create an environment where innovation and collaboration can flourish, the author suggests a multi-pronged approach, which I believe we have already been implementing to various degrees. The prongs include:
--Rallying around a shared purpose
--Actively building a culture of collaboration
--Making it easy to connect and share

--Emphasizing values of trust, honesty and communication

--Measuring your impact on important goals

So, let's make this more concrete. This past Friday, we held our annual November Tutor/Mentor Networking and Leadership Conference. It is a very important day for the Tutor/Mentor Connection because it is one of 2 major opportunities each year to get all of our constituent organizations together under one roof for a day of learning, sharing information/resources/best practices, collaboration and networking. Due to the nature of our organization, which is in effect a loose network of hundreds of different programs offering various forms of youth tutoring and/or mentoring, we are constantly struggling with the aforementioned organizational silos and use these conferences as a means to dismantle these silos and encourage more effective communication and collaboration between the various programs. I will now take on each type of organizational silo in turn and explain how last Friday's conference is helping us to tear down these barriers to collaboration and innovation.

Geographical Silos
By bringing over 100 leaders in tutoring/mentoring from all over Chicagoland and the midwest, together under one roof, we're encouraging geographically distant members of our organization to interact and collaboration face to face We believe the internet has the potential to make geographical silos irrelevant because it has such a wealth of resources for collaboration: email, online forums like http://tutormentorconnection.ning.com/, SVHATS, google documents,
www.tutormentorconnection.org, and the list goes on. Relationships between programs that begin at our Tutor/Mentor Conferences can be developed via the internet, which makes it so easy for people to connect and share through interactive online learning communities, such as those being developed by our eLearning and Technology Coordinator Vjekoslave Hlede.

Project Silos
Because one of the explicit goals of the tutor/mentor connection is to foster collaboration between tutor/mentor programs, there were countless discussions at our conference, both during panels and workshops as well as between sessions about the best ways to implement various programs and improve outcomes for our youth. The links library on www.tutormentorconnection.org has thousands of relevant links and forums addressing every possible aspect of a tutor/mentor program and effective strategies. Additionally, our tutor/mentor institute discusses strategies and concepts we use to try to expand our reach and effectiveness, to help more kids in more neighborhoods stay in school and succeed. Because everyone at the conference was there because they believe in the importance and effectiveness in tutoring/mentoring at-risk youth, we were able to delve deeply into specific aspects of tutoring/mentoring right off the bat and share strategies and best practices.

Functional Silos
A main goal of the Tutor/Mentor Conference is to get people to understand the unique role they can play as a change agent and leader in youth tutoring/mentoring. We make it clear that any person or organization can help connect their networks with other tutor/mentor programs in other parts of Chicago, helping to increase resources for all programs. We want individuals and programs alike to realize that there is no hierarchy in the tutor/mentor connection, that it is a network of professional and volunteer leaders who work together to bring more and better resources to tutor/mentor programs aiming to help disadvantaged youth succeed. We think anyone can fill in the red oval below, and that they don't have to sit around and wait for a leader to delegate responsibility to them, that they can take their own initiative, supported by the resources of the Tutor/Mentor Connection, to help give disadvantaged youth a chance to realize their dreams.
Technology Silos
Finally, we aim to use technology to bring people together, bridging gaps that are not only geographical, but educational. We host the Chicagoland Tutor/Mentor Program Locator
, which is an online directory of every known program in Chicagoland that offers some form of youth tutoring/mentoring. We give leaders at each program the resources to update or otherwise edit their profiles, which are used to recruit youth and adult volunteers alike. Our eLearning and Technology Coordinator Vjeko is also working to share his Student and Volunteer web portal/history and tracking system SVHATS with other programs around Chicago such as Good News Partners, which do great work in the Howard Area Community of North Rogers Park. This recent conference was a great opportunity for him to share some of our technology ideas, which can be found on our wiki and how they can be implemented to improve youth outcomes and strengthen grant proposals by allowing organizations to both qualitatively and quantitatively measure their impact on youth.

In sum, we are doing quite a bit to prevent organizational silos from inhibiting the innovation and collaboration that are so necessary in a decentralized organization like the Tutor/Mentor Connection to succeed (for more info about decentralized organizations see this post). However, obviously we still have room to improve. Any suggestions?

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