16 Mar #112 – Silos Are for Farms (and Famines)–Organizational Silos
ESSENCE: For a leader seeking to lead an organization to faithfully “do right” through business a better way, eliminating organizational silos must be a priority. In this post, we look at “wisdom” and “information” silos. Organizational silos are bad for the leader, bad for the organization and bad for its culture, which makes it bad for the people in the organization. Organizational silos flow from work as usual, which flows from business as usual (and its underlying assumptions of Profit as Purpose, Scarcity and Self-Interest). Organizational silos will stop being built only when the organizational culture changes, and changing the culture requires identifying and dismantling existing silos. Leading an organization to faithfully “do right” through business a better way requires internal organizational wisdom and information flows that value, promote and prioritize excellence, human dignity, relationships and flourishing.
We talked in our last post (and in in various past posts, for example, post #064–Humility-A Key To Wisdom) about the problems of “silos”. We believe silos are only helpful on farms and during famines.
For a leader seeking to lead an organization to faithfully “do right” through business a better way in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities, eliminating personal and organizational silos must be a priority.
In our last post, we focused on personal silos. In this post, we will look at organizational silos. While one could probably identify many ways in which organizations “silo” various aspects of their operations or groups of their people in ways that undermine a healthy culture (in fact, people have written entire books on the topic of organizational silos), we will consider two we think are most relevant to people seeking to lead and invest in alignment with Biblical faith: wisdom silos and information silos.
We believe silos are an inherent by-product of business as usual. Silos flow from work as usual, which flows from business as usual. We like this observation about silos:
Silos will continue to be inevitable as long as the rewards for collaboration are outweighed by the rewards for competition. (Pearl Zhu)
Organizational “Wisdom” Silos
We use the term “wisdom silo” to describe a situation in which a leader cuts themselves off from the wisdom that resides above and below the leader in the organization. Wisdom silos are bad for the leader, bad for the organization and bad for its culture, which makes it bad for the people in the organization.
A leader without access to the wisdom, knowledge and experience of other people in the organization (whether because the leader does not seek it or because the leader has created a culture in which it is not considered “safe” to share it or because the leader has chosen to filter all information through “yes” people) CANNOT make the best decisions for the organization.
And a culture in which people do not feel like they have a “voice”—a culture in which their unique “wisdom” is not recognized and appreciated–is more likely to breed disengaged workers and is unlikely to be the type of a healthy culture that maximizes human flourishing in alignment with faithfully “doing right” through business a better way.
As we explained back in post #064 (Humility—A Key to Wisdom), we believe wisdom silos largely occur as a result of pride. Indeed, the link between pride and wisdom is pretty clear in Proverbs 11:2:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
Or in simpler terms, Rev. William (“BJ”) Weber likes to say “Your ego is not your amigo.”
“I’m the Smartest” Wisdom Silos. When a leader believes he is smarter and more skilled than those who work for him (or is so insecure in his ability that he needs to give the impression he is smarter and more skilled) and does not seek their insights, that leader will make decisions that do not take into account the wisdom, knowledge and experience of others in the organization.
These are the people closer to the nuts and bolts of the business–closer to customers, closer to the factory floor, closer to the distribution system, closer to customer service, closer to problems that need to be addressed, closer to opportunities that can be realized. They are also humans with different gifts, skills, experience and perspectives.
If a leader lacks the humility to recognize the value of other humans in the organization and give them a “voice” (or lacks the self-confidence to seek the views of others), the knowledge of those humans is “trapped” with them and can’t translate into wisdom for the leader or the organization.
It also creates a culture in which people are deprived of two of the three elements (“value” and “voice”) that Michael Stallard has identified (in his book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work) are necessary for a healthy “connection culture” in which people are engaged and flourish. We discuss Stallard’s assessment of culture in more detail in post #084 (Culture and People). In Mike’s words:
Voice exists when everyone in an organization seeks the ideas and opinions of others, shares their opinions honestly, and safeguards relational connections. In a culture where voice exists, decision makers have the humility to know that they don’t have a monopoly on good ideas, and they need to seek and consider the opinions and ideas of others in order to make the best decisions.
“Just Tell Me What I Want To Hear” Wisdom Silos. This type of silo is built by leaders who give people a “voice” but do it in a way that obstructs the flow of wisdom.
If a leader’s ego (whether through pride or lack of self-confidence) leads her to surround herself by people who only affirm her decisions rather than challenging them (or if the leader has created a culture in which challenges are perceived as “dangerous”), that leader will be making decisions in a vacuum, again devoid of the wisdom, knowledge and experience of “the organization”.
It may stroke the leader’s ego (and might even allow people to feel like they have a “voice”), but it is not unleashing the wisdom within the organization and is not respecting others in the organization. Bad for the leader, the organization, the culture and the people.
“Who Needs God” Wisdom Silos. Likewise, a leader who does not have the humility to recognize they are merely a steward of God’s organization is unlikely to submit decisions to prayer before proceeding and is unlikely to worry about whether the organization is operating in line with Biblical principles, values and priorities. Such a leader will be relying completely on their own abilities, which is not respecting the REAL OWNER of the organization.
Of course, even the leader who recognizes and takes down a “Who Needs God” silo by praying for wisdom will only get the benefit of that wisdom by trusting God’s process, timing and outcome:
Process: God’s process is often counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. Imagine being Joshua and circling the walls of Jericho.
Timing: God’s timing often seems excruciatingly slow. Imagine being the Israelites wandering for 40 years.
Outcome: God’s best outcome for an organization may not be the world’s best outcome, because God cares about people and the world often sacrifices people for power and money.
Just like seeking only the input from others that you want to hear creates its own wisdom silo, praying for a particular process, timing and outcome is NOT praying for God’s wisdom, and ignoring God’s wisdom to pursue your own process, timing or outcome is NOT wise–it is prideful business as usual.
Organizational “Information” Silos
Another category of organizational silo behavior is information silos. We use the term “information silo” to describe a situation in which a person or group in an organization fails to share the information with others who could do their jobs better if they had the information.
Whereas wisdom silos get created by leaders, information silos can be built by any person or group in the organization with unique access to information.
“I Wasn’t Taught To Share” Information Silos. An information silo can exist simply because the organization has never developed systems or avenues for sharing. Different divisions, groups or people with unique information go about their activities oblivious to others in the organization who could do their job better with the information.
Eliminating these types of silos could result in better decisions, more efficient work, better performance and a greater feeling of collaboration and common purpose in the organization.
“I Don’t Like You” Information Silos. Information silos can exist even in organizations that have created systems and avenues for sharing where relational breakdowns interrupt information flow. For example, information may not get to other departments that need it or leaders who rely upon it because a person who represents a node in the information path is difficult to work with.
These have the problems of the “I Wasn’t Taught To Share” silos but can be more insidious for two reasons:
Because leaders believe information is flowing along well-designed pathways that have been blocked.
Because addressing it requires mapping human relationships, which is much more difficult than fixing reporting chains or designing policies and practices for information flow.
Ultimately, a leader committed to cultivating a healthy culture focused on flourishing needs to root out these breakdowns and bring healing.
“I Don’t Want To Share” Information Silos. Whereas the “I Wasn’t Taught To Share” silos are inefficient, the “I Don’t Want To Share” silos are toxic. We noted back in post #021 (Work As Usual—Money and Power) that the corrosive assumptions of the business as usual culture, such as Scarcity and Self-Interest, become the assumptions out of which people work and treat others. For example:
Knowledge, information and influence are guarded as sources of power (or survival) and aids in making money.
Those assumptions infect how people do their work and how they treat others.
When the culture of a business embodies “Profit as Purpose” together with “Scarcity” and “Self-Interest” assumptions, people will come to understand, at some level, that they are ultimately tools for maximizing profit and that they will be rewarded or punished based upon their perceived contribution to that goal.
Work as usual will flow from business as usual, and people in the organization will begin to see co-workers as either competitors in a zero-sum game or primarily as tools for their success or survival in that culture. We believe this was never God’s design for work or human relationships.
“I Want To Control It All” Information Silos. Like wisdom silos, these silos are created by leaders. Unlike wisdom silos, these information silos are driven more by power than pride.
Whereas the leader who creates a wisdom silo doesn’t recognize or doesn’t really want the wisdom of others, the leader who creates this type of information silo recognizes the power of information held by others in the organization and wants it all–exclusively.
The leader purposely creates reporting chains and information flows that ensure the leader is the only one who knows what is happening across the organization. It is “I Wasn’t Taught To Share” silos BY DESIGN. And “BY DESIGN” makes it not only inefficient for the organization and frustrating for people but also toxic to the culture.
People feel disconnected because the culture has been designed to disconnect them. These silos represent manipulative and dehumanizing managerial behavior and create work cultures that are not conducive to human flourishing or to an environment of Shalom.
Silos will continue to be inevitable as long as the rewards for collaboration are outweighed by the rewards for competition. (Pearl Zhu)
Silos Undermine Integrity
As we have said in past posts, authenticity is the embodiment of the “wholeness” of integrity, which is at the core of Integriosity®. Leading an organization to faithfully “do right” through business a better way requires internal organizational wisdom-flows and information-flows that value, promote and prioritize excellence, human dignity, relationships and flourishing.
Because “an organization is a merely a collection of people working together toward a common purpose”, organizations function or “dysfunction” toward or away from that common purpose based on relationships. One toxic person building silos can begin a corrosive effect that spreads like a bruise on a peach. You may recall a Seth Godin quote from an earlier post:
The attitudes you put up with will become the attitudes of your entire organization. Over time, every organization becomes what is tolerated.
It is worth repeating–silos flow from work as usual, which flows from business as usual. Organizational silos will stop being built only when the culture changes, and changing the culture requires not only identifying and dismantling existing silos but also no longer tolerating new ones.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): I have been the creator of silos (mostly wisdom ones) and the victim of silos (particularly information silos of the “I Want To Control It All” variety and wisdom silos of the “Just Tell Me What I Want To Hear” variety). Sadly,I didn’t recognize the ones I created (and apologize to those who were caught in them), but I certainly recognized the ones I was stuck in—and so did others. A leader wanting to eliminate silos will need to seek information and wisdom from others in order to identify them, which may itself have a silo-busting effect that begins to change the culture.