The Source of Silo Behavior

People often speak to me about the problem of silos. Their organization lacks collaboration. To imbue an organization with purpose is to create a climate of shared intention. Each person understands the collective purpose and sees how their individual tasks contribute to that purpose. The people create a positive organization and silos disappear. Unfortunately this seldom happens. Culture prevents it.

In order to survive, animals are constantly scanning for threat. By detecting danger early, they can react in a way that allows them to survive. The same is true with us. If we are standing on a corner reading a book and suddenly we hear screeching brakes, we look up and assess the possible danger. In capturing human attention, negative cues are more powerful than positive cues.

If we are in a meeting and the boss loses his or her temper with a colleague, we glance at each other with knowing looks. While the boss did not intend it, his or her expression of negativity just set an expectation that is likely to become a boundary. Our fear is going to keep us from going anywhere near the line just crossed by our colleague.

The existing culture is the collective comfort zone. In most organizations we tend to stay on the path of least resistance: we do that which is safe. While we claim to value the creation of new outcomes or contributions, our behavior often demonstrates self-interested risk avoidance.

Living in this organized hypocrisy gives rise to a serious problem. The external context keeps changing and the organization does not adapt. The organization becomes dis-integrated or unaligned with the external world. Silos arise. This increasing dis-integration requires that we practice further self-deception and tends to lead to a loss of energy. Centered on our comfort, we languish and stagnate. We do not reach our individual or collective potential.

 

Reflection

  • What is the cost of silo behavior?
  • Why do silos arise?
  • How is silo behavior transformed into collaboration?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?
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