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Let’s Talk Org. Siloes

Most leaders in medium to large organisations experience the joy of leading siloed groups at one point or another. Typically this siloed behaviour manifests through one of three symptoms:
  1. A sense of artificial superiority in one group over another,
  2. A lack of care or consideration between groups, or
  3. A complete absence of awareness and integration between groups, leading to duplication of work.

It’s the first two I want to talk about this week.

Now, siloes are a natural organisational formation. We are limited beings, and can only deal with so much information and interaction at any time. In any organisation above a few hundred people, siloes are an inevitability.

Matrix Sound Of Inevitability GIF - Matrix Sound Of Inevitability Serious GIFs

But that’s no reason why we have to encourage the progeneration of silo-created negative outcomes.

It’s those we can counter – and the ability to lead change despite siloes is a necessary one.

To Action: Humanise Other Siloes

When conflict and hardship led to increased migration from the Middle East and Africa into Europe in 2015, The Sun (a British tabloid newspaper) described Britain as “plagued” by migrants and asylum seekers. But it wasn’t just the sensationalist media caught up in this style of language. The then British Prime Minister David Cameron called the crisis as “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean”. (Something he took heat for at the time).

There’s a scary effect when using this type of language – and that’s one of dehumanisation.

Any chance of sympathy that these migrant groups could have elicited quickly evaporated in the face of comparison with disease and insects.

Dehumanisation is an powerful tool. For example in 1984, US president Ronald Reagan released a short film-like commercial called ‘The Bear’ as part his re-election campaign. It’s a simple film, but message it conveys is powerful. It positions the Soviet Union as a prowling bear in the woods – something to be prepared and wary of. (You don’t try to understand the bear – you fear and protect yourself against it).

But dehumanisation is often unintentional – especially in organisations rife with siloes. The entire concept of ‘throwing a hand-grenade over the fence’ embodies this dehumanisation – because we wouldn’t throw the grenade at our allies!

Language is powerful – so if you’re leading across siloes:

Keep an eye on the language used within your teams and banish any dehumanising language. Either overtly – “we don’t say that kind of thing here” – or subtly by countering any unintentional dehumanisation with an empathetic response – “I’m sure they’re balancing a whole other set of priorities over there”.

It’s small, but it makes a difference.

It’s smallness also makes it easy to do.

Dehumanisation has no place in our organisations.

Not only that, but dehumanisation short-circuits empathy – and that’s a problem.

To Ponder: Creating Opportunity For Empathy

We humans have a particularly special talent. Like many animals, we mirror each other as a form of empathy and connection. (Just go watch a group of people at your local café and you’ll see what I mean). But we don’t just mirror each other.

We take that ability a step further through our ability for empathy.

Empathy is a form of brain mimicry. We are able to experience similar emotions to someone else using just our imaginations. And this isn’t just ‘made up’ emotions – our brains actually release the necessary hormones for that emotion.

A few years ago I had to stop watching The Walking Dead for this very reason! My habitual binge watching combined with the human ability for empathy had overloaded my brain with a cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol. For a couple of days I was walking around my house in a state of extreme hypervigilance. Between looking for escapes and expecting some sort of jump scare – I was ready! Ready for an imaginary threat…

Empathy is powerful.

And yet empathy is the antidote to ineffective siloes.

So that’s this week’s ponder question –

How can you introduce opportunities for empathy into your teams?

My suggestion – use story. Whether that’s Story-driven learning, a team video newsletter, co-design journey workshops or something else. Story is one of the most effective ways to create empathy.

To Reflect: Your Weekly Anti-Platitude

Siloes are as natural a formation in our organisations as mountains are on Earth.

We don’t and shouldn’t all work together, all of the time.

Effective organisations have siloes that are filled with considerate humans.

Brendon Baker

Brendon is a leading expert in strategic framing and inside-out change. He has led and guided over $11 Billion in transformative projects and programs, from transformations to teddy bears. He is the author of the best-seller Valuable Change, and niche top seller Creating High Value PMOs. Brendon now spends his time helping leaders cut through the noise to focus on what matters; working with them to create new realities.

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