While one can only speculate about whether recent world events indicate a general trend to a “them versus us” thinking or not, the new US administration’s call to make “America first” and the Brexit decision to split from the EU, seem to have heralded a new shift to “separate” and “go it alone”.
This however begs the question as to whether unfettered international competition is conducive to growth given the current environment of global trade and co-operation. But there can be little dispute that competition between businesses has given society significant economic growth and innovation.
Paradoxically, business organisations have long recognised that the lack of internal co-operation and sharing (between divisions and departments) has hampered performance. Unfortunately, what has become known as “Silo Mentality” remains pervasive in organisations.
To reverse “organisational parochialism”, interventions such as restructuring, customer-centric team building, incentivisation schemes, business process re-engineering and technology have been used to “bridge the divide”. All of these approaches essentially seek to serve the customer and have now become mandatory practices in the modern organisation.
However what leaders had only in fact changed were “silo” artifacts and instead overlooked changing the “silo mentality”, the internal thought processes.
With the drive to utilise technology to serve the customer, organisations have accumulated vast amounts of personal data on the preferences and requirements of their clients. And while this wealth of information now presents an opportunity for the larger organisation to leverage this to their advantage and broaden penetration in multiple service and product areas, therein lies its own challenge.
Getting the product divisions to co-operate and share information with each other while each seeks to optimise their share of the finite “client-spend” means coming up with solutions to the age-old issue that has dogged many organisations.
Surely this is a déjà vu moment!
Organisational synergy is defined as “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts” – in this case getting people to work creatively together, so that one plus one is greater than two. Unfortunately, merely opting to adjust organisational artifacts is no longer going to cut it. However that being said, ‘Silo Mentality’ is a mindset that can be shifted provided one major hurdle can be overcome, namely, the general habit of leadership to go back to ‘what worked in the past’.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” Anaïs Nin
Although leadership behaviours are complex and unique to the individual and context, research has in fact shown that trust can be absent in leadership echelons. This can stem from “artificial consensus” among leaders (nodding heads masking disagreement), which in the business environment translates to a lack of commitment. The reality is however, unless collective leadership can deal with personal convictions and rivalries, little progress can be made.
Changing mindsets is an uncertain undertaking and typically draws on techniques such as persuasion, inspiration and even fear. None of these approaches have proven to be a guarantee for success. For me, the defining point lies in the initial engagement – ‘do I (the leader) choose to go down this path?’ This conscious decision implies a state of heightened awareness that can be created by drawing on a large body of knowledge from OD and the neurosciences.
Only then, can, for instance, ‘Creative Interchange’, a powerful process of synergistic engagement between individuals be deployed to actively grow and establish a culture of co-operation and sharing. This approach has proven to be a highly effective counter to the ‘Silo Mentality’.
Manipulating the levers alone to encourage co-operation has proven to be largely ineffective. So, I suggest, however complex, the most cost-effective and sustainable method for dealing with the old Silo Mentality challenge today is to place a focus on shifting mindsets.
So, what scenario works best for you – a high probability of an acceptable share of a bigger pie that exists in a synergistic environment or the low probability of control of a smaller one that defines ‘Silo Mentality’? You be the judge.