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Silos in Athletics

Silos in Athletics
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In 2014 Robert H. Steward presented his Master’s thesis entitled “Organizational Silos Within NCAA Division I Athletic Departments.” The conclusions revealed a high level of siloing at both NCAA Division I “high-major” and “mid-major” institutions. His research dealt with administrative and functional areas within the athletic departments, not sport teams or coaches. However, it would not be a far reach to assume that if silos exist within the administrative structure of athletic departments, they exist with sport teams as well.

So what are “silos” in organizations? The Business Dictionary defines silos as follows: “A mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.” Patrick Lencioni in his book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars states: “Silos – and the turf wars they enable – devastate organizations. They waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals.”

There is no doubt that athletic departments continue to struggle with behaviors by student-athletes, as well as by coaches, that are outside the boundaries of the purposes and values of the academic institution. Could silos be a contributing factor to these recurring issues?

What are the signs that silos exist among athletic teams within athletic departments? The primary evidence is most likely the lack of communication and collaboration between administration and coaches, and among the coaches. A “top down results at any cost” approach is often the culprit in this scenario. Coaches sometimes are given departmental purpose statements, visions, and guiding principles. It should be noted that one of the most frequent institutional values cited is integrity (e.g. ethics, honesty, morals, decency, etc.). However, with no methodology for developing reinforcing systems to ensure alignment to those attributes of the department or institution, it is up to each coach to decide which fork in the road to take. The lack of reinforcing systems along with the increasing pressure to win are often the reasons why programs go “rogue.” When this happens, both coaches and student-athletes have little sense of responsibility to something bigger than themselves or their team. They are seeking short-term results.

In his article “The Silo Mentality: How To Break Down The Barriers”, Brent Gleeson describes five strategies for breaking down silos in organizations: 1) Create a Unified Vision; 2) Work Towards Achieving a Common Goal; 3) Motivate and Incentivize; 4) Execute and Measure; and 5) Collaborate and Create. Our work has revealed that a cause that is in service of something bigger than ourselves is a compelling and uniting force. A shared commitment that is deeply meaningful to the team drives appropriate behavior that produces “at your best” performances consistently. Leaders are responsible for the implementation of shared and truly meaningful visions and values. Athletic administrators must take on the challenge of breaking down silos and creating a culture of alignment and commitment to the shared vision, shared purpose, and shared values of the institution. Without a change in the “silo effect” in collegiate athletics, it is likely that the number of out-of-bounds incidents by both coaches and student-athletes will continue to be prevalent.