“Break down the silos” – this is a term we all have heard, and many of us have said it. Why is it that we hear it so often..? Why is it that most change efforts see this as one of the biggest challenges..? Why is it that we all know we need to collaborate more – but those darned silos… Fact is, we create and embed the silos.
I believe out-dated management thinking drives much of this siloed thinking and behaviour within organisations, from mainly two perspectives. Firstly, from the structures that are put in place and secondly from the myth of “single point accountability”.
The management structures that we predominantly use today are based on the patriarchal structures of old. One person at the top, the chief. Then the chief enlists the support of others (often from birthright) that will help them keep the clan in order, ensure the clan survives (from a growth and sustainability perspective) , and also to have ability to protect themselves from external threats. These ideas are feudal. Modern management techniques are built upon the ideas that were formed in the west from early civilisation and are remarkably similar to what you would have seen in the Roman Empire. These structures worked well then, and they have served the world well through all of its military misadventures – but has the world changed..?
The second out-dated management idea, that I feel drives these silos, is the thought that the chief needs to hold individuals to account. “Single point accountability”, “one throat to choke” are typical maxims for adherents of these ideas. The chief then sets ‘stretch targets’ for these individuals next in line in the structure, again using misguided thinking that “the harder the goal the harder someone will work”…and when there are large rewards on offer (for the individual) sometimes people do work hard to achieve the goal, by ‘hook or by crook’, or at the expense of other silos. And we wonder why we have silos..?
Using these military-style command-and-control structures, combined with individual accountabilities and rewards, inspires tribal, siloed feelings, thinking and behaviours. Embedding “us and them” across the business, fostering internal competition, celebrating brinkmanship, encouraging gaming and the development of countercultures. Yet the organisation will (often) have a value of “Teamwork” or “Collaboration” because they know it is important – but out-dated management thinking prevents those values translating into meaningful action.
The world has changed. There is a much greater need today for people to work together, to collaborate, across teams, across locations, even across oceans. We all work together to achieve a common set of results. Interdependency across teams exists. So let’s have shared results and targets. Let’s collaborate as a team to work out how to align our resources and maximise our results. There is plenty of research out there that demonstrates this is a better way, but for some strange reason we stick to these out-dated management ideas. (An example of this research – Harvard Business Review, July-August 2014, page 57: “High performers…demonstrated superior cross-functional collaboration, strategic focus, agility…new fluid organisational structures facilitate these capabilities.”)