Silo mentality causes inefficiency, information hoarding and game-playing in workplaces. Although hard to measure, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a business with an engrained culture of divisive silos can’t have an agile, customer-focused and innovative culture. Yet, these are the very values that businesses must adopt to thrive in this new age of disruption. Disruptive competitors, quite likely from outside your industry, will have built their cultural foundation on these values. That’s why they’re so effective at disrupting traditional business models.
There are many contributing factors to silo mentality such as outdated functional structures. In 2016 organisational design rocketed to the top of the agenda among senior executives and HR leaders worldwide, with 92 percent rating it a key priority. (Global Human Capital Trends 2016: Deloitte). As companies strive to be more agile and customer-focused, they are shifting their structures to have more flexible, cross-functional teams.
We must not overlook another significant cause of silo mentality. Silo mentality within businesses is also a reflection of a ‘us and them’ culture in our society. This is evident in our news. For example, in Sydney we have a newspaper that flashes a sensational story across the front page every day, often about the despicable goings-on of the ‘scrum of the earth’; the vile, the lazy, the liars and the vicious. This paper is the state’s best performing newspaper with strong growth in readership, circulation, and overall audience.
This is because many of us unconsciously crave a steady feed of other people’s bad behaviour, especially if the acts are more disturbing than our secret, harmless misdemeanours. We grant ourselves full permission to look down our noses at those who behave worse than we do.
Of course, it is not too dissimilar in our workplaces as we look down our noses at people for their slightly less destructive bad behaviour. “Julie in accounting was so rude when we asked for a report to be run urgently!” “I overheard Matt from the Operations Centre saying, “the bloody corporate office. He should get over himself.”
Silo mentality is heavily reflected in our political system. Rather than working together, our political parties appear to spend an inordinate amount of time proving they are better, smarter and more moralistic than the others. This creates time-wasting distractions away from the important work of building and pursuing a strong vision for our nation to ensure it remains resilient in the decades to come. Yes, there are huge silos within each party too. Yawn.
Let’s not forgot silos in families. Double yawn.
Naturally, my conclusion is that silo mentality is a very ‘human’ thing. It has plenty to do with our ego. Our ego protects us from possible threats to our safety, security, and well-being. When we are operating from the unhealthy part of our ego we have a superficial and limited view of ourselves and others. When it comes to others, our ego makes an instant judgement about whether they are ‘friend or foe’. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are often threatened by people who are different from us. People who have different values, opinions and experiences. People who look different, act different, who are defensive or passive towards us. Our ego often labels those different to us as ‘foe’ and our negative judgement becomes the ‘truth’.
Building skills in emotional intelligence significantly decreases silo mentality by helping the workforce to understand themselves, others, and the larger system they operate in. By building their own emotional intelligence, leaders will have the most influence on breaking down silo mentality.
Goleman, Boyatzis and Mackeen state in their article, Emotional Intelligence, Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance, that high levels of emotional intelligence in leaders can set the scene for trust, information sharing, and healthy risk taking. Low levels of emotional intelligence create environments where fear and anxiety encourage employees to protect themselves, become defensive, aggressively compete with each other and focus on the short term.
A few years ago I was asked by a General Manager to work with his engineering and design teams to build their emotional intelligence skills. The greater business was finding his team incredibly difficult to work with. Feedback such as “they are arrogant”, “they just don’t listen!” and “they get too technical when they explain things”, were common. The commercial impact on the business included costly delays in product development and the loss of one very important customer.
My conversation with the General Manager went something like this.
Silence…..then a wry smile crossed the GM’s lips.“Okay, you got me.” “I’m in.”
Over a six month period collaboration between departments improved by a measured increase of 82%. Humility replaced arrogance and they better understood the shortfalls of their ego and how to override and in some cases prevent its irrational judgements. They realised there are many ways to look at every situation and they can choose a negative or positive light as their lens of understanding. They learned how to see the perspectives of other people, the customer included, because they learned how to listen. Listening and collaboration replaced a culture blame and arrogance.
Having a workforce that consciously builds their emotional intelligence results in a more innovative, collaborative and agile culture. Silo mentality is dramatically reduced, as the workplace truly learns the humanistic and commercial value of diversity in all its majestic forms. This gives businesses the best chance of achieving their objectives.
Oh, and from training hundreds of leaders and team members to build their emotional intelligence, I’m delighted the value almost always extends beyond the workplace with families and kids being the greatest benefactors. Now that’s something to smile about.
Kristyn Haywood is the Founding Director of People for Success. Kristyn is passionate about helping organisations unlock the natural talents of their entire organisaton by re-shaping their cultures and developing 21st-century Leadership capability. Check-out People for Success’ Authentic Leadership Program, Team alignment workshops and cultural transformation journeys