“I can sum up all our problems in a few words: ‘silos and butt-covering.’”
QBQ! The Question Behind the Question
A good author doesn’t date stories or quotes in his books because doing so gives the reader or audience member a built-in objection. They might think, Hmm, old. Must not be relevant anymore.
In this case, though, knowing that an executive made the statement above to me in the mid 1990’s might actually help. You might think, Huh, I see nothing has changed!
That is, you could think that if you work for an organization …
It’s true. Twenty years and a whole bunch of “team-building” later, our places of work still have silos. Vertical, nonphysical, and unwalled, usually called departments, regions, districts, or “the home office.”
And costly. Costly because they truly prevent us from functioning as “one team, one goal.” It really is time to demolish them, don’t ‘ya think?
Now, we’re not suggesting an organization shouldn’t have departments. The term “silos,” though, has a different meaning—such as blame, turf protection, and lack of communication.
So why do silos exist?
A quick aside (but not really):
I always chuckle when a potential client reaches out and says, “John, we’ve read QBQ! and really like its focus on personal accountability. We’re thinking of hiring you to speak, but we have a question: Have you ever spoken for our industry?”
I always answer that question with this question:
“Well … do you have … people?!”
If an organization has people, it has problems.
And one of the biggest problems is this: People build silos.
Of course, the good news is this: People can knock silos down.
I picked up another executive quote in recent times while doing research for Outstanding! Gesturing toward the large window in his corner office, he said, “We work awfully hard every day to remember that the enemy is out there!”
That’s the way it should be, because in our complex, competitive, and ever-changing world there is simply no room for competing with one another internally. It’s stated in the Bible: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Nor can it be outstanding.
So let’s demolish those silos beginning with burning this truth into our minds:
We’re all on the same team.
That’s a principle we still need in our organizations. Just today, as this blog was about to be posted, a manufacturing executive said to me over the phone, “John, we have an environment marked by low trust and high silos.”
Yep, nothing’s changed.
What are silos costing your organization and what will you do today to knock one down?
We do have to have different departments (silos) within our organization because we can’t have construction guys making decisions that the engineers should be making. We also can’t have our engineers tied-up doing things that construction guys should be doing. It’s a safety issue. We all work together, however we have to distance ourselves so that we can accomplish the goals correctly and safely.
Rhonda, we’re not suggesting an organization shouldn’t have departments. The term “silos,” though, has a different meaning—such as blame, turf protection, and lack of communication.
Silos have their place, as Rhonda points out, to allow specialty teams to focus on particular areas or skills. Where silos cause issues is when they become protective of their area and people fail to communicate between departments the pertinent information for the entire organization to succeed. The other failure is when the organization gets so fractionalized with silos and specialties that there are just too many communication connections that need to be maintained to make them efficient (think some government agencies). Finding that balance is tricky and I would appreciate any references and other stories from organizations that were able to strike that balance to maintain focus on given tasks and efficient lines of communication.
Agreed, DEPARTMENTS have their place, Franc. And lots of organizations have not let them turn into SILOS where people hunker down, point fingers, and don’t talk to ea other.That’s the line not to cross, which you say in your fine comment!
Silos are people working against each other and that leads to working against the project. They may leave someone off an email, work around a group of individuals, not complete an assigned task, maybe just because they don’t like that person, whatever the reason, it hurts the team and ultimatley, them. A team is a team with no one person making a decision. We are all working toward the same result.
Betsy, appreciate your insights!!!
We have different departments within my organization, a church. Each department has schedule events or projects scheduled to reach certain goals, but we seem unable to come together because of the silent competition to out do the other. We seem to forget what the main purpose of supporting other groups and sharing ideas with each other to other groups succeed, thus defeating our purpose. So we build, as you say, “Silos.” We are all part of one team trying to reach souls and build a church. This article was very thought provoking thank you for it!
Debbye, yep – even in a church! Thanks for sharing!
I recently left an organization where one department head who was responsible to work with many other departments providing services to them was oh so self-protective. He always made sure he had someone to blame if the project didn’t succeed as planned. Most of the other departments that he was supposed to help realized this and often tried to work around him. This became his go to blame. I always tried to work with him but had to spend countless hours making sure I had documented that he was a part of every decision and knew about every direction we took. What to this day I find sad is that the CEO never realized how demoralizing it was to the many department heads who had to work with this man. And truthfully how many good employee’s left in great part from the frustration of working with him.
Interesting! For the past 2 years, our organization has been leading with the motto “One Team. One Mission.” yet, we still see silos. The message is very helpful, thanks for the always on point advice!
Jon, time to bring in some QBQ! training, eh? 🙂 Thanks for being honest!