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Silo mentality is a way of thinking that exists when some divisions or sectors of a company do not want to exchange information with one another. The airline industry has long grappled with a silo mentality, where the divisions or departments within an airline function in an isolated and compartmentalized way. Silos limit collaboration and information sharing between different functions, like flight operations, ground handling, maintenance, and customer service. Jainita Hogervorst, Director of Aerviva Aviation Consultancy, based in Dubai specializing in aviation recruitment and document management explains how airlines should use effective strategies for promoting cross-functional interaction and a culture of collaboration and communication to overcome Silo mentality.

Delays in cross-functional collaboration interfere with coordination

According to a survey by Aviation Week, only 29% of airlines have formal processes for sharing critical safety and operational data between departments. Most surprisingly, a study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) found that 63% of airlines struggle with silos and 47% of flight delays are due to poor coordination between functions like ground handling, maintenance, and flight operations.

“The focus has traditionally been collaboration between pilots and flight crew, but the need for broader cross-departmental collaboration is equally crucial,” says Hogervorst. “Encouraging interaction between pilots and ground handling staff, for instance, can significantly enhance understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities, leading to smoother operations and improved safety,” she emphasizes. The last point is critical as safety managers are often challenged with implementing an effective safety management system but have to overcome the silo mentality. “But regular communication between maintenance, customer service, and ground operations can streamline processes and avert disruptions,” Horgervorst concludes. Emirates has implemented a cross-functional team from different departments, which promotes collaboration and teamwork to break down their Silo mentality.

Shift mindsets

Silos exist because of a mindset that values individual or departmental goals over organizational goals. To break down silos, the bigger picture should be the focus, and understanding their unique place in the organization, as well as that of others. This was the lesson Boeing learned, the hard way, with the 737 Max.  “By shifting mindsets to focus on the big picture communicating a unified vision and creating shared accountabilities allows an understanding of roles and responsibilities of other departments and the building of relationships across the airline,” Horgervorst says, pointing to Delta Airlines as an example that implemented a CRM system to break down silos by providing a centralized database of customer information that can be accessed by different departments.

Nurturing a Unified Culture

Creating an organizational culture that encourages collaboration and communication is pivotal to overcoming an entrenched silo mentality. “Seeing the importance of transparent communication and sharing critical information can dismantle the barriers that divide different areas within an airline. By stressing teamwork and knowledge exchange, airlines highlight the interconnected nature of roles and how different work actions impact the overall performance of the organization,” Horgervorst offers, sharing how United Airlines and Delta Airlines, to improve digital capabilities, set up cross-functional teams with representatives from different departments, such as marketing, operations, and IT.

“By prioritizing cross-functional interaction and a culture of collaboration and open communication, airlines can instill a unified approach that streamlines operations, improves customer experiences, and enhances safety standards,” Horgervorst explains and notes by way of example how, “Air France formed a cross-functional team with people from IT, marketing, and operations to select a vendor for its new passenger service system.” Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines has long been known for its successful culture of cross-functional collaboration and communication which avoids the silo mentality. “Breaking down silos is not just a strategic imperative; it is a transformative step toward building a resilient and customer-centric airline industry for the future,” she summarises.

Silo mentality in the airline industry is a formidable barrier to operational excellence and safety. “By promoting cross-functional interaction and fostering a culture of collaboration and communication, airlines can address this challenge head-on,” Hogervorst stresses.