When it comes to leading managing the dynamics of the people in your team and breaking down cultural silos, near enough is not good enough. When people talk about a business being ‘siloed’ – what they are actually referring to is a business that has created so many people ‘work arounds’ or people ‘avoidances’, that entire business units no longer function effectively. This can stem from something as simple as two Department Heads not liking each other and deciding not to talk. Little ‘work arounds and avoidances – not debating a point you disagree with, avoiding a team member, following an outdated process – all start to add up over time. These people inefficiencies cost businesses millions of dollars in wasted time, effort and frustration, but they are hardly talked about.
Cultural Silos are Created By Leaders
There are 6 simple ways in which cultural silo’s are created by Leaders:
1. People Processes Treated Differently To Business Processes
If a business process is inefficient, businesses utilise principles such as six-sigma or lean to ensure that it is rectified. If the finances of the business are inefficient, a formal review may take place to ensure money isn’t wasted. If safety processes are inadequate, a 5-S process may take place. People inefficiency is treated differently – it is often ignored, done badly, worked around.
2. People Process Ignored Cultural Silos
People behaviours that impact performance can be ignored for many reasons:
- It seems too easy. ‘This is just common sense’ is a phrase that ignores the simple fact that miscommunication can cause people issues and inefficiency. What is common sense to one person is very different to another – there is no ‘common’ sense. We all have different experiences, emotions, behaviour patterns, preferences and work styles – to assume that something is common sense is really a little naive.
- Challenging entrenched behaviours can be hard. Very few people actually like conflict – that uncomfortable feeling in your gut when you challenge a behaviour or hold someone to account for something that hasn’t been completed. Instead of feeling uncomfortable in the moment, it can be easier to ignore the problem until it comes up again.
3. People Process ‘Worked Around’
- It isn’t as important as the bigger things. One of the reasons that a people process is not dealt with is a simple justification – ‘it isn’t important’ or ‘it isn’t as important as xxx’. This often masks a personal discomfort with having a difficult or uncomfortable conversation. People issues and misunderstandings can have a significant impact on performance – choosing to work around them because they seem less important than other things just creates a bigger problem in the future.
- Collusion. Many people behaviour are ignored for a very simple reason – the leader / manager may have done the same thing themselves. Rather than discussing the problem, they avoid it for fear of what might be said back to them – ‘but, you do that as well’. It results in behaviour collusion – I won’t mention your behaviour if you don’t mention mine – a pattern that can spiral a teams performance.
4. People Process Done Badly
- It gets Personal. Often when Managers and Leaders seek to address a people problem, they make a fundamental error. Knowingly, unwittingly or accidentally, they attribute a problem behaviour is attributed to a ‘problem person’. It gets personal. The focus becomes the person (and the implicit judgement of the person that comes with it) rather than the correction or adjustment of the behaviour that caused the issue int he first place. A minor correction in behaviour then becomes a major problem between people – in football parlance, it would be called ‘playing the person, not the man/woman’.
- It Gets Judgemental. When people issues are raised poorly, people can feel criticised or judged, and their behaviour often fits a familiar pattern – fight (argue, talk back or get angry), flight (don’t listen, avoid or leave) or stand still (hear the words, but are so threatened or surprised by the information, they don’t respond). Responses can be delayed, shared with other people after the fact, or not discussed again bu the people that need to. After a poor interaction, there is a tendency to judge the other person – ‘A always says this’, or ‘B never does the following’ – resulting in a people problem that two people will not attempt to solve.
How Do Leaders Break Down Cultural Silos?
Breaking down solids on a business requires persistent and clear behaviour from all staff, particularly those in senior positions. As mentioned in a recent Forbes article, these behaviours can have large negative consequences. Some of things that can be done to address silo behaviour include:
- Be clear on what you want. Being clear on the behaviour that you want people to demonstrate, as well as clear on the behaviour that is inappropriate. Think on the things that you love your team to do, and well as what you don’t – then tell them.
- Don’t walk past small misunderstandings. Small misunderstandings turn into big misunderstandings and judgements over time – take to time to talk clearly with people if there has been a disagreement or misunderstanding and clarify it quickly.
- Play the Ball, Not the Person. When raising an issue, focus on the behaviour that you want to discuss and how you want it changed, rather than focussing on the person. The person doesn’t need correcting or changing – only the behaviour.
- Avoid ‘Absolute’ Judgements. If someone has made a mistake or done something wrong in the past – it does not mean they should be judged for it forever. Discuss a behaviour, let the person correct it, and move on. If they do the same behaviour again, mention it and correct it again – and be clear why you are doing it.
- Acknowledge Your Errors. There are times when you have to discuss a siloed behaviour that you have done yourself. Acknowledge your behaviour and correct it anyway – and don’t be a hypocrite. Just because you have done something before doesn’t mean that you need to do it again, and neither does the person you are correcting.
- Seek to Understand. Silo’s are not created by bad people – they are most often created by passionate, driven people trying to look after their people. Take the time to understand what the other person / team wants and needs and don’t judge focus on your own needs – you will be far less likely to create a misunderstanding.
Silo’s can be broken down when leaders and managers take the time to not walk past the little things and make relationships between people an important part of business success.