Monday Morning Moment – On Silos and Tribalism – Taking “Us” and “Them” to a Better “We”

Blog - Silos & TribalismPhoto Credit: Slideshare.net

“Silos”, as a workplace term, is such a fitting description for what we do to distinguish ourselves from each other. It means compartmentalization based on specialization. Now the term “silos” is less used, replaced by the cooler term “tribes”. Unfortunately, because the workplace woes of old are still in operation, “tribes” have deteriorated into “tribalism” or…[Hello] “silos”.

I began thinking about this again this weekend when a retweet came up in my Twitter feed featuring Gianpiero Petriglieri. So much organizational resource – money and time – is spent on specialization and grooming leaders. It’s a pity when the outcome actually draws down the organization ( to small pockets of “tribal buddies”) instead of honing expertise and relationships across departments, across disciplines.Blog - Silos and Tribalism

What if we could break down silos, and reorient and reenergize tribes? What if workplace tribes incorporated a grand plan that nurtured inclusion – creating “a rising tide that lifts all boats” (Adam Grant)?

Years ago, when I was a young instructor at Yale University, I experienced workplace silos. There were bottlenecks through which I had to maneuver, until I figured out how to win those beyond the bottlenecks. Since then silos have been a part of life for me, as I’m sure they are for us all. Oncology nursing had a different prestige than critical care nursing. Was one better than the other? No.

Working in the Middle East had its own set of challenges different from working in Europe. Does that mean one elicits greater respect or benefits than another? Of course not. Right? Communication between those in the field and those in the home office can also become very much an “us” and “them” transaction.  Even within the home office, one department may seem more the “flavor of the month” than another. What are your silo/tribe challenges?

Brilliant business writers can give us great tools and insight with breaking down silos (see fast reads in the links below). If you are anticipating a major change in your organization (buy-out, down-sizing, shift in focus/product line), it makes for a perfect storm to deal with silos. Of course, if management across the organization leads out with a unifying goal (a “battle-cry”), the possibility for success is heightened. I don’t think, however, that this is the only hope for success.

What if one department, a single silo or tribe, decided to tackle the problem? What would that look like? From my work experience and from learning from great leaders, both celebrity and colleague, here’s a bare-bones minimum how-to-get-started list:

  • What is your common goal as an organization? What is the clear unified rallying cry around which you can collaborate?
  • What are your own silo biases? Do you communicate that you think your department, location, specialization should have some sort of favor? Deal with that. It’s the first barrier that has to come down.
  • If trust has been disrupted or destroyed, who can you partner with to begin to rebuild trust? Name them, and begin the process (if you pray, you might begin praying for their success as a department/division – make it NOT about you).
  • What objectives can you establish as a department to guide you in staying focused on high-value collaboration across-specialties?
  • How will you measure the course of your action toward becoming a non-silo, less tribal department? Set a time. 6 months or across whatever acute crisis you see coming. Be as intentional and broad-reaching as you are able, given your own workload. Remember that silos alter the math in a workplace – 1 + 1 + 1 = 2 when teams aren’t sharing information and working at cross-hairs. We can make the math work better, as we work, against the flow, toward creative collaboration. 

My professional life has had various silo experiences, from teaching in an Ivy League university to working on a highly innovative team (recklessly creating its own brilliant unintentional silo, later with personal regret). Silos and workplace tribes never get us where we want to go collectively. Bring ’em down.

I would love to hear about your work experiences…any struggles, breakthroughs, or victories in this area of breaking down silos and building a culture of “Yes, WE can…together.”

Blog - Organizational CUlture - Lencioni book Silos, Politics & Turf WarsPhoto Credit: Amazon.com

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars – A Leadership Fable about Destroying the Barriers that Turn Colleagues into Competitors

Silos and Tribes – Think Different

17 Strategies for Improving Collaboration – from the Freiberg’s – Do Not Miss This One.

How to Build Trust and Fight Tribalism to Stimulate Innovation

Breaking Bad – Squash Silos & Tribalism – Breakthrough Personal Branding

Leadership Axioms: Powerful Leadership Proverbs by Bill Hybels

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5 thoughts on “Monday Morning Moment – On Silos and Tribalism – Taking “Us” and “Them” to a Better “We””

  1. Is this one of those things we will talk about forever and still get nowhere . . . just rename the problem? I’m with you, I don’t like ’em – but there is no quick fix . . .

    kc

    1. Are you kidding? I have so much hope. Everything I’ve been reading lately though says you need to do a full court press for a short season to break down silos. Then, when you get to wherever “best” is at that season, you put a plan in place to do what you can to stave off entropy. We default to silos/tribalism. It seems to be our nature to lean in that direction. We just do what we can to get to “best”, and then we put safeguards in place to try to stay somewhere in the neighborhood, for as long as possible. No quick fix…I get that…but a “better” situation is possible. I am convinced. Thanks for wrestling out these matters with me, Friend.

    1. You’re right, Danielle. For any sweeping change to take place, at least for a season, the executive leaders must tackle the problem with a vengeance. Sometimes this is awkward, because compartmentalization and specialization are often developed by management. Anyway, I appreciate organizational leadership that grapples with tribalism as a thing that can squash creativity and innovation. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. We can still tease out pathways between silos and maybe punch through a few.

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