One of the more technique sensitive challenges in business is how to effectively bridge departmental silos. There are many barriers, including these eight:
- Politics and personal political agendas
- Business maturity
- The need to respect others’ views through different lenses
- Digital underbrush
- Perception of others
- The need to thrive through stress.
Politics. In business, political agendas make more things happen — or not happen — than common sense. Whenever we undertake the challenge of bridging silos, it is vital to get a good read on the political landscape.
When change comes, with it come political winners and losers. Because of that, personal political ambitions will engage individuals — if he or she stands to benefit — or repel them if they stand to lose. Because a well fortified silo stockpiles energy sources the political animal enjoys, among them control and power, it is a domain many will zealously defend.
To the highly political animal, bridges can be threatening. However small or large, silos are empires and a silo owner will be highly suspect of what’s coming and why. Control must accede to consensus, and decision-making authority may change.
To a silo owner, ceding power means someone else is gaining more because he or she is changing the system and the silo owner must now react accordingly. The more insecure the silo owner, the more emotionally he or she will push back.
Because of this career ambition can get in the way, especially when the new bridge is perceived as a threat. Those in charge must be coached to show the courage to operate in a more respectful, team-centric climate that keeps the collective good above individual self-interest.
Some can do that. Others, especially the job insecure, will struggle.
Business maturity. The widespread lack of this is a troubling, growing concern. Too many interview with it, then forget it when they show up at work.
Like clean air and fresh water, business maturity is a precious resource. Demand exceeds supply; and pretty much everywhere I go I notice a discouraging lack of maturity permeating the office culture. Business maturity has zilch to do with gray hair or experience and everything to do with respectful decision-making, teamwork, and respect for others — putting “we” ahead of “me.”
There are several reasons for this, among them a person’s upbringing, his or her education, and changing generational values. For good measure, blend in a seismic culture shift that for the past two decades has valued participation and devalued competition.
I have written many times before that maturity and flexibility have grown increasingly valuable in business. There are times to lead, times to follow, and times to get out of the way. Business maturity involves knowing it is smart to tag in and out of all three roles — and then cheerfully doing so.
Silo-protectors will resist that and tend to trade the right thing for the selfish thing. This can be temporary — it is by no means a life sentence — but part of the bridging silo challenge is recognizing where hidden barriers exist. This is often one.
Respecting different lenses. Silo protectors see agendas first, honorable intentions last. Different is wrong, not good, and perceptions are quick to form and difficult to change.
Good leaders are open to thought re-engineering, regardless whether those thoughts orbit an idea or a person. A person living in a silo has a very limited, restricted view.
Those on the outside have a different view. Different is good, not bad, and differences come via points of view, skill sets, past experiences, business values and personal beliefs, plus priorities.
When we stay aware, open, and respectful of the differences in others, it becomes much easier to spot their honorable intentions. When we do that, we never even ponder secret agendas and suspicions.
Territoriality. During the autumn rut (breeding season), a male deer — a buck — stake out his territory and cover the does that opt to venture in.
People are herd animals too, so it’s quite easy to see why the silo — the territory — is staked out and defended. It does not take long in any office to quickly notice reasons why. For example:
- Fear and insecurity tied to job justification.
- Desk drivers. People with vertical, not horizontal, accountability can earn a living and steady paycheck by not making waves. They anchor down and drive that desk, year after year, decade after decade.
- Selfishness. Sharing is risky. Controlling? Less risky.
Digital underbrush. Looking back over my nearly four decades of white collar business engagements, three things stand tallest as global game changers:
- Digital technology obliterating analog tools, methodologies, and limitations.
- The rise of second generation women in the classroom, on the athletic field, and in the workforce.
- Multicultural acceptance. America used to be comprised of whites and suppressed blacks. We have grown greatly toward where we need to keep heading: toward a sizzling stir-fry wok of all blended talents, regardless of origin.
For the past dozen years or so I have invested thousands of hours understanding the impact of technology on behavior, and, because of that, business.
Technology does a lot of good things; and it does a lot of bad things. Areas of nose-wrinkling retreat include:
- Personal isolation. Some is forced, some is chosen, little of it is good. It is not just the social aspect of isolation that’s negative; isolation has transformed a lot of formerly strong thinkers into lumpy folks with short attention spans.
- Organic versus acquired skills and competency. The root of many generational conflicts and attitudes is planted in the tools common during their youth.
- Erosion of interactive effectiveness. Command of the language and its presentation (ex. handwriting) have slipped noticeably. Part of this is due to easy access to information. No longer do we charge through life steadily stockpiling wisdom. Now we don’t need to know anything — just where to find it — and too often the results of this chosen empty-headedness are on display during social and business interactions.
- Collateral behavioral damage: Snap decision-making has risen, avoidance of conflict has grown, weak collaboration skills are everywhere, and the demonstrated skill to drive consensus thinking is becoming a specialty.
- Emotional intelligence [defined as “managing by fact while parking personal biases”] is a popular buzz phrase that increasing numbers of people are curious about but have little clue how to demonstrate.
Technology can enable silos. Therefore it is important in bridge building to mitigate its use. It is a lot harder not to like a co-worker you’ve met only electronically than one you have shared lunch and laughs with.
How we see ourselves: our self-image. People like being around people similar to themselves. Business interactions force change. The bigger and more common the interactions, the more likely multicultural and multi-generational lenses, values, and communication styles will come into play and be respected. Some folks thrive with these interactions. Others do not. They are uncomfortable doing things differently, especially with new people they did not choose to engage.
How we see ourselves is usually different than how others see us; and neither of those is 100 percent congruent with who we are outside the office.
At work, we see ourselves based on our intentions. If we own the silo, we want to be viewed as a skilled and competent member of the organization. Having to share thoughts, ideas, and decision-making across bridges can force us to have to bend — something many of us hate to do.
How we see others. Years ago USA Today newspaper ran a survey to see how handsome or pretty men and women thought they were, compared to other people. The result, pardon the pun, was beautiful:
- Eighty percent of people think they are better looking than eighty percent of people!
The reasons for this are rooted in perceptions and impressions; and since we find in life what we look for, when we look in the mirror we search for what’s most attractive about our appearance. But when we look at others, we look more critically. We look for what’s less attractive about them.
First impressions form quickly and are really difficult to change because once the perception is formed the ongoing tendency is to look for validation — not counter-evidence. This is why good first impressions matter so much in business. They are cornerstones of future interactions: If you like someone the first time, you’ll like them the second time. If you don’t like them the first time, you won’t like them the next.
Keep this important behavioral certainty in mind when approaching a silo owner for the first time. Make a good impression.
Thriving despite short-term stress. The mind goes through four stages of emotional gymnastics when dealing with change; and bridging silos where there were none before is forcing change so these four steps are going to be forced upon the silo-owner:
- Step one: the evolutionary need for the bridge to be built.
- When bridge building becomes a reality, step two is the Panic Stage. The silo owner will internalize things in the worst possible context. They must navigate this stage, alone or with help, or they will dwell in it and stew.
- This is the Acceptance Stage. Logic replaces panic. Here we manage by fact. This is the anchor spot. You must get the former silo owner here.
- The final step of processing change is flourishing under the new environment.
Some of us are better at navigating change (and coaching co-workers through change) than others. Regardless how fast or slow we go around the four-step wheel, we all do it! Do not underestimate how helpful coaching can be.
In closing, school teaches us a lot of things but not how to bridge silos when egos are involved. Like many things in business, there is a right way to go about it. Take full advantage and add this skill to your repertoire.
Leave a Reply