Overcoming the Body Shop Silo Effect

Sept. 27, 2022

A guide to encouraging teamwork across departments and roles.

Reducing the risks and liabilities within the collision repair process to achieve product and service excellence should be top of mind in all repair facilities.

Though there are many areas to improve in the repair process, a steadfast focus on the flow of that process greatly improves overall service, employee morale, quality, profitability and organization. The constitution of the repair line, however, lends itself to creating silo effects where employees are focused only on their immediate tasks and not contributing to workflow when and where it’s needed most.

David Caulfield, an owner of FixAuto Anaheim North who is widely considered a leader in innovative collision repair shop processes, said he once was told the word organization can be meant as paying attention to events before they become a crisis.

“For me, it’s true,” Caulfield said. “When we get organized we change lives. History continues to confirm that the practice of an individual technician, held accountable for a multitude of skill sets, is no longer a viable method if we desire to reduce inferior, uneducated, and noncompliant repairs while reducing the time it takes to perform them. A single technician’s responsibility that entails repairing a vehicle from start to finish, bouncing from car to car, attributes to these risks. An assembly line process is the cure.”

Business leaders say the so-called silo effect, a mindset where employees at a specific station along the repair line focus only on their immediate tasks and responsibilities without effectively communicating with the rest of the repair team, stifles efficiency, and team morale, and contributes to an overall decline in company culture. 

A company that experiences the silo effect is likely still a growing organization with shop owners and managers who don’t yet realize they have a duty to train their teams to stop this destructive behavior. Internal teams operating only within their silos may also show that there are problems with the organizational structure of the company that requires solutions and not a laissez-faire attitude.

Changing the company culture to get employees to trust in the assembly line process, embrace teamwork, communicate effectively, and believe that overall company goals matter most requires total organizational buy-in and a unified vision.

How to Break Free

Founder & CEO of Taking Point Leadership Brent Gleeson, writing in a 2013 article for “Forbes” says, “It is imperative that the leadership team agrees to a common and unified vision for the organization.” For shops, that means owners and managers first have to agree and continually work to reinforce that vision by encouraging trust and teamwork. Managers need to be at the head of the operation, making sure the entire team is working together, and that individuals at repair line stations are striving to achieve team-oriented goals instead of only being concerned with their immediate job duties. 

Getting there will require training across the organization and coaching employees to allow their peers to change stations and assist when issues arise, instilling them with an understanding that when this happens they are not being called out for doing a bad job but rather teamwork gets the job done efficiently and expediently. 

“Once the common goal has been identified, each member of the management team must incentivize their employees accordingly,” writes Gleeson.

Understanding Employee Resistance

There may be individuals who do not communicate well with the rest of the line or surrounding stations. Meet with those employees one-on-one and re-train the individual by reinforcing the company’s vision, emphasizing teamwork, and properly instructing them on how and why communication with the rest of the team needs to occur.

Keep in mind that an employee’s unwillingness to break out of the silo effect may shed light on broader organizational issues or repair-line processes that could use a tune-up. This may also be a good time to introduce or reintroduce incentive programs.

Setting Periodic Goals

Establishing time frames to meet goals at the station, team, and organizational levels gives employees a clear, unifying purpose and mission. 

Daily, weekly, and monthly goals—and short-term goals—also help break up the larger needs of the company and provide avenues to complete long-term projects one attainable mission and outcome at a time. These wins and improvements will foster greater engagement from your team.

“It is not uncommon that a large amount of inertia is needed to keep the momentum going,” writes Gleeson. “Let’s not forget that teams thrive off routine and constant reinforcement.”

Incentivizing job performance also motivates individuals to excel and to work with the rest of the team on short-term goals and outcomes. Regular celebration of wins reinforces the value of the individual and that of the team and allows everybody to feel a sense of pride when the entire organization succeeds. 

Encourage Collaboration and Creativity

As the saying goes, talent wins games but teamwork and intelligence win championships. Breaking your repair technicians out of the habit of working as individuals at isolated stations and together as a team requires passing along knowledge of the fundamentals of each process up and down the line, and how to perform them.

This doesn’t mean training glass installers to weld or painters in aluminum repair, but employees should have a clear understanding of each step of the assembly line process for a complete picture of how it works. 

“The exchange of knowledge and the collaboration that will inevitably take place between teams is absolutely priceless,” writes Gleeson.

As a business grows, technicians are assigned to each department based on the skill required for that specific department. They will become experts in these fields via uninterrupted focus, training, and repetition, and this inevitably leads to the discovery of creative solutions for processes that could run more efficiently. Allowing employees to cross over to other stations to lend a hand often leads to uncovering inefficiencies in the system and sometimes opens the door to creative solutions.

Be Patient

Breaking body shops out of the silo effect takes tenacity and patience. Changing the way any company operates is never an instantaneous process, and changing an organization’s culture requires more effort to overcome the existing inertia in the system. For MSOs, the larger the organization the more steeped the present culture will be, and the longer a consistent effort will be required to apply new principles and expectations up and down the repair line. 

As shop owners and managers, it’s essential to articulate, then model and reinforce the desired behaviors of individuals and the performance of the entire team. 

“I recommend starting with a plot plan of your shop and property,” Caulfield said. “Scale the drawing to the size of a Matchbox car or Hot Wheels toy car. Draw in your booths and get creative moving the cars around the plot plan. Pay close attention to ‘car-in, car-out’ thinking. It’s an easy and fun exercise and this process will certainly open your eyes to a whole new world of options that were right in front of you the entire time. If it’s time for a change then change it.”

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