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Leadership House Call

How To Break Down Silos and Make Collaboration Happen

The Question:

"I work in a highly technical environment, and it's hard for me to get people to pay attention to each other, as they would all much rather work alone. How do I raise enough heat in the organization to get others to consider changing how they operate and begin working together? We need a stronger organization, not a group of individuals functioning in silos." -Stronger together

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

One of the biggest lessons from the challenges we face right now -- from the economy to the environment -- is that optimizing the pieces does not necessarily optimize the whole. This seems to be true in your own organization, and the image that comes to mind is that of Frankenstein's monster, who has all the working parts but is not fast or agile enough to escape the dangers coming after him.

Your question, then, is the challenge of the moment: How do we get people to work outside their silos for something larger? From our consulting work, we see a difference in the resilience of those firms that are highly fragmented compared with those that are collectively engaged.

Let's assume, Stronger Together, that you do not have formal authority over everyone to make them work together. You cannot simply command them to work together. Using what influence you do have, then, how can you motivate your peers to move out of their comfortable positions and prompt those above you to also look for a solution?

The answer lies in the reality that there is no reason to do anything differently without a compelling purpose. Your task is to focus your peers, followers and superiors on a greater purpose, one that makes sense for your organization.

If you are successful, the focus of that heat will be on organizational priorities or norms and not on you as an individual raising a ruckus and trying to push people to do something uncomfortable and risky. Here are a few heat-raising questions to help move people out of their silos into collective engagement.

1. What are the risks of continuing business as usual? Most of us are well trained in evaluating the risks of taking an alternative course and not in the risks of continuing with the status quo. However, we hear over and over again that individuals find themselves out of jobs or firms go out of business after becoming complacent in the way work is done and not changing as the context changes.

2. What are your competitors doing while you sit in silos? Many of us have a competitive instinct and are very reluctant to think of ourselves as average or outdated. Putting data in front of your colleagues about how your competitors are working differently and getting better results can light the fire and encourage people to step outside their comfort zone.

3. What are the gaps between the espoused values and exhibited behaviors? Anonymous surveys are a great way to generate data on the gap between what your company externally purports and what is actually going on. Most organizations will formally state that they value collaboration, but do people actually see this happen in everyday interactions? When you have this data to start with, getting people to respond in some way is easier.

4. How are the performance objectives outdated for success? If you want people to collaborate, yet the metrics for success are based on individual performance, your company is in conflict. Changing performance objectives are a big task, but without it, your company's rewards and behavior will remain misaligned. To raise the profile of collaboration, one organization we know gives time for the most collaborative staff members to engage with the board members and brainstorm around organizational strategy.

To get people out of their silos requires both a carrot and the stick approach. The only answer is to use both to find ways to engage the hearts and minds of those you work with to do something different.

[Send your leadership questions to leadership@washingtonpost.com, or post them in the "comments" section below]

By Cambridge Leadership Associates

 |  June 9, 2009; 3:36 PM ET |  Category:  Leadership House Call Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg     Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I am torn between two worlds on this one. Reading tea leaves to me, suggests Senator Kennedy is too young and inexperienced to run the Healthcare show ;). Obama is out in Cheeseland promoting his own thing, is that cooperation, not to me it isn't. In fact that is a waste of fuel to me. And I have yet to go back to campaign rhetoric indicating that healthcare spending is nothing to compared with war spending. Right now, the Silos seem very disjointed to me.

You know, those boys and their toys when will they ever grow up ? Old school was, "The Boy with the most toys wins". I always asked, "So what is the prize for winning ?". One night a man did say he was going to the beer brewery to drink it dry. Wife said that he could never do that. He said, "Yea, but I bet I can keep the lights on". That is phoney logic. Those lights will stay on without the man being there so am I referring to someone in specific like Newt G. for example ? People that don't believe in collective bargining may not ever get ADR either. Theirs is a bully kind of world.

Parents are cautioned not to scold a child for doing something not kosher. By saying "You are bad" may lead to fulfillment of expectations. Is the kid really bad or is the kid just being a kid needing some disciplinary corrective actions. Point to me is that in reference to collaboration, we sometimes need to drop the labels. But, I guess boys (or girls) will be boys (or girls). In the meanwhile, maybe I will live up to some of my own labelling ;).

Posted by: truthhurts | June 11, 2009 5:29 PM

We find that by having people focus on being extraordinary they will change their inward focus and look outside of their silos. Set the bar with the wisdom and knowledge of your positive deviants and leverage that wisdom to rest of the organization and you will have an alignment with your company values as well.

Posted by: RickGrbavac | June 11, 2009 11:42 AM

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