Why silos creep into culture, and what to do about it

“The staff don’t think outside of their own departments. They don’t think strategically about what is best for the organisation, just for what is best for their group. They have a real turf mentality. I really want to break the silos and get them being more collaborative, entrepreneurial, innovative!”

Geoff grimaced. This was a key frustration for him and the leadership team since the major re-structure last year. He thought that with new leadership, new direction, and new organisation that the teams would gel and jump in to the future, gleefully holding hands. Likely he was not that naïve, just hopeful.

Here’s the thing:

The capacity for individual contribution is directly proportional to past wounds and current care by the leaders.

We are tribal by nature, and defence is our default. If we feel threatened, we will rally to our team. Survival shrinks perspective. We don’t elevate to the greater good, we narrow to the common denominator.

Think of #PittsburgNotParis. This is survival mode in action: when you are facing the loss of your livelihood, and all that you have known for generations, and wondering how you will put food on the table, then you are unlikely to think, “The Paris Agreement is for the greater good of humanity and the future of the planet. I’m ok without a job.” It’s just not going to happen. Not without A LOT of gritty leadership.

So if you’re facing silos at work, likely you have your own #PittsburgNotParis situation going on.  Your first priority is to allay fears, and then put your leadership savvy to work.

Firstly, check your Purpose is visible, measurable, and achievable. This creates focus.

Next, check your Leadership hygiene: make sure you are accessible, congruent, and transparent in all that you do and say. This builds belief.

Next, scrub the decks. Check your systems are smooth and don’t cause undue friction. This frees up capacity.

Check the work environment and its structures stimulate rather than stifle energy. This uplifts spirits and unleashes creativity.

Check your people have the skills to do what you need them to do. Do they have the communication, delegation, management, creative thinking, and strategic thinking skills required to spark innovative ideas and share them with those in authority? This ensures capability.

Lastly, what are you doing to build YOU as a leader? Do you have an A-Team outside of your work and industry that can give you frank feedback? Do you have a curation system to stay on top of trends affecting your industry? How are you expanding your perspective and maturity as a leader? What are you doing to build your capacity and courage? Are you growing or stagnating?

If your organisation is to thrive, you need to lead with an appetite for learning and the humility to show you need it.

Have you experienced silos in a workplace? Why do you think they happened? What worked, and what didn’t in trying to break them down?