Destroy Silos Before They Destroy You
I asked an elected official to share his impressions of the political process. Without hesitation he said, “It’s disappointing that the Democrats and Republicans are sitting in separate rooms figuring out how to make the other party look bad. Politicians live in silos.
Silos are great for storing things but destructive to organizations.
Effective leaders always destroy silos.
- Grow inward like incestuous families.
- Isolate talent.
- Hoard resources.
- Slow progress.
- Dampen enthusiasm.
- Create paranoia.
- Act in self-protective ways that damage others.
- Don’t network.
- Focus on individual good rather than organizational good.
- Win when others lose.
Bonus: Silos resist change.
Silo-breaking is painful and slow but can be done.
- Form a clear picture of your organization without silos.
- Define specific behaviors that enhance collaboration and break silos.
- Hold cross-department planning meetings. Let them see the “enemy.”
- Embrace decision-making by participants not isolated bosses.
- Tell stories that honor collaboration and illustrate silo-breaking.
- Reward teams and teamwork.
- Develop leadership skills and attitudes that enhance collaboration.
- Measure performance in terms of teams.
- Seek best solutions regardless of the source.
- Establish inclusive rather than exclusive systems.
Bonus: Embrace maximum transparency and information sharing.
Silos are slow, cumbersome, and destructive. Organizations with silos may win battles but eventually they collapse inward and lose the war.
What are the symptoms of organizational silos?
How would you being silo-breaking in your organization?
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One of the biggest downsides of silo thinking is that it leads to blaming and the inevitable blaming. “Those idiots just fon’t get it and we have to do their work for them” is a common statement in siloed working.
Life is too short to be angry all the time and the people you work with and depend on.
Great seeing you again. Hope you are doing well.
Thank you for adding the “those idiots” comment…great addition. When I wrote this I thought about a boss I had long ago who built a powerful silo. It was always someone else’s fault when things didn’t work out. There were “enemies” everywhere.
YOu have my best,
I don’t know who your brave elected official is, but kudos to him/her for describing our political system so honestly. “Republicans and Democrats are stting in separate silos figuring out ways to make the other look bad.” Wow. So true and so sad. Such a waste of time.
This unfotunately seems to carry over into business, especially large ones. Too many employees seem more interested in self promotion than overall successful outcomes.
In my classroom I did an activity in which each student had to write something on individual index cards they admired about every other class member After writing them out, we sat in a circle and shared these orally one at a time. One speaker, one admiration, move on to the next person. Each person eventually identified a strength of every other person. Then all those written compliments were delivered to the recipients. I usually planned this in Nov. or Dec. after we had gotten to know one another a little.
This activity was always a breakthrough moment. It forced each of us to focus on the skills of every individual. We became a team on that day…more than a team, a family.
I did the same activity with teachers during professional development that I lead. Find a way to translate this activity into your business and the silos will start to dissolve.
Your “circle of strength” is awesome. I can think of several places it would be helpful to both seeing/saying the strengths of others and for those who hear what others think. I love it!
Another reason I love this idea is it’s rooted in the strength based leadership movement. (I’m drinking the strength-based cool aid)
Thank you for adding so much value.
Dan-it’s almost hard to believe that silos still exist considering how long we have been talking about knocking down the walls. Yet silos seems to grow naturally like unwanted weeds while the more transparent organizations take more cultivation.
Great seeing you again.
Your comment makes me think about the myth of organic success. Successful relationship, businesses, leadership, sports teams.. etc NEVER emerge organically… They take intention, wisdom, practice… in short, hard work.
YOu have my best,
It seems like silos grow when even great organizations become complacent. I have experienced working in organizations where the boss built a horizontal, transparent structure, felt triumph, felt the work was done, and left it to grow many silos – like a hydra. It seems like the hardest thing about preventing or breaking silos is the relentless work of preventing their return.
YOur comment is a wake-up call. You remind me that success is a journey not a destination. I find that both comforting and challenging.
Thank you for adding value today..
While reading your post today, I got reminded of an organization culture that gets built over a period of time more by the top management policies, philosophy and the values followed. Silos happen and grow when there is a dilution to what is ideally to be followed to build the clean and socially responsible image.
Who are responsible for creating silos? I consider CEO and HR Head who at times overlook the working of a second layer of management who act more as bureaucratic/ selfish leaders and spoil the organization culture. Short-term, smart techniques can be avoided for quick results which are against the company laid- down good systems and policies.
‘Tracking on how the business is done rather than what results are brought in’ should be the focus of control and ‘adequate utilization of operating staff’ can protect the in-onslaught of silos at the organization.
A whistle-blowing policy within can be encouraged and the prompt corrective actions should take place to stop the birth of silos and protect the organization health for a long- term period.
Dear Dr. Asher,
You raise loads of great issues with powerful insights.
I love your inclusion of tracking “how” the business is done rather than what… The “how” of business if frequently neglected in view of the bottom line. It’s time for leaders to realize that, along with the bottom line, how we get there is important.
As always, thank you for sharing your insights.
Dear Dr Asher,
Your points are relevant, real and insightful. I do agree that silos grow when policies are either overlooked or unethical. When organizations have short term goal, then silos perhaps grow. Organizations and leaders talk much about whistle blower policy, but how many actually practice it. And again, it is top down approach. When top leaders or management believe in creating silos because they achieve what they want, why will they believe in creating whistle blowing policy. I think silos and whistle blowing policy are inversely connected. Organizations having more silos less believe in whistle blowing policy and vice versa. Conversely, organizations with more silos need more whistle blowing policy.
TAPMI, Just Joined
Reblogged this on willowcreeksa.
For more on this subject, Patrick Lencioni wrote a great book titled: Silos, Politics and Turf Wars.
Thank you for adding another resource. I hope I didn’t go against anything Lencioni wrote. I better go get his book.
Silos are also self-perpetuating in a negative spiral and from a darker traumatized-system perspective, can create and grow the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ frame of reference, which has added toxicity. In the Hatfield/McCoy model,” you are either with us or agin us!” There is no middle ground, causing all to operate in a faux crisis mode.
Silos eschew learning in any form. ostracize those who advocate alternatives, causing stagnation, et al.
IMHO Dan, you cannot break down silos without first asking, ‘why’. ‘What happened that are they in existence? “What happened to those individuals that they felt they needed to close ranks and shut down?”
Often there are layers of safety that have not been addressed.
To thoroughly answer that question requires leadership to ‘be with & in’ those silos for an extended period of time to see, experience, and learn. Drive-bys won’t work and will be seen for what they are…a gesture only, no commitment.
After that, there may need to be some very confrontive introspection for the leadership team to discern what they have been doing that led to such a negative mindset.
Breaking down silos is no easy task and is of course aligned with changing a culture.
(1) From my point of view, silos means grain or missiles or cliques. I think you mean cliques (one of my old bosses used too); but maybe there is a further silo reference in the superb Harrison Ford film “Witness” (other than a late-spotted “Top Gun” connection) that I’m missing.
(2) Bank Holidays. We have them in Europe. Like the Superbowl in the USA, they break silos: they force (or seriously encourage) people away from the office. They allow families and friends to arrange a meeting (a picnic, a lunch, a dinner) in the full knowledge that everyone has the same day off work. That’s how they are +meant+ to work. That’s how Sundays are meant to work too. So, with Portugal cutting back two bank holidays this last week (and Sundays sadly less sacred than 30 years ago – despite amazon offering new options), be prepared for more tunnel-vision (vision through work-objective-rather-than-family-and-friend-focused silos). And that may mean the loss of societal objectivity. Does that matter?
(3) In the UK we talk about people living in bubbles. Is this different to working in silos? In 2008/9/10/11/… financiers in the City particularly were seen to be living in bubbles. Right now, some FTSE100 executives’ high-salary-bubbles have also been identified by the investors in the companies they have been running at a loss. Resignations and renegotiations have begun in the past fortnight. Is this limited to the UK? It seemed to start with the vote on Bob Diamond’s salary at Barclays.
So, yes, I think I agree; and those are some of the symptoms. But have I understood you properly? I bet you wanted me to talk about the transfer pricing team not talking to the tax team or the sales team not interfacing properly with the long-term strategy and risk team!
Reblogged this on Mastermind Century Group and commented:
Another terrific post on a very important topic-
I especially liked #6 and #7 in your silo-breaking suggestions… but it begins and ends with acknowledgement and an emphasis by leadership to build bridges amongst all contributors.
As an 8 year public servant – all I can to this is AMEN. And maybe, AMEN again! If I were to create a resume that lists what I really do (instead of my job description), I like to think silo-busting is somewhere near the top. We refer to it as ‘thinking corporately’, but the intentions are the same.
In software development organizations, applying agile and scrum principles is a way to break down silos and increase collaboration. Mechanisms like planning games, where the customer and the development team defines what is needed, sprint demos where the new software is demonstrated,, and retrospectives where the team evaluates their way of working all help to shorten the development and delivery chain, and to deliver what the customer really needs.
I run training for may professional practices in the UK. It is amazing how guarded of their own colleagues in other “silos” course attendees are! There are some organisations where (generic) training has to be arranged specifically for departments: “We do things differently in this silo!” Opportunities for internal networking, sharing resource and knowledge are mercilessly squandered at significant “cost” to the organisation. Obsesseion with “chargeable hours” is another limiter for professional practices…
Thank you – a very thought provoking post.
Hi Team, very great comment and suggestions about SILO thinking. i work in Ghana and we have huge barriers when it comes to Silo thinking and i am currently working on a team building workshop where i want to address Silo thinking, however i am looking for interresting activities that can be used to stress this and illustrate for people to see the effects and set backs we face as a team with the silo thinking mentality. Any help from you folks…
There is much truth in many of these comments. One thing that really bothers me about silos is watching their leaders take in new talent that soon becomes part of the status quo.