Stop the Silo Culture
U2, Hospital Cleaners and Silos. 19.4.20
It’s funny how a walk in the park on a Saturday morning listening to Richard Curran on radio, can make the mind wander. In last week’s show, an interview with a hospital cleaner in Donegal reminded me of a case study with U2 at its centre.
In a recent project for a client, I was invited to help them restructure the business. The stimulus for the project was the CEO’s dissatisfaction with how teams were or weren’t (more to the point) working together. Sales and profit targets were being achieved but there was an underlying tension between some departments that was unsettling him. Other metrics such as the increasing number of customer complaints and the high turnover of employees made him realise that something was amiss.
On the face of it, the organisation structure charts looked like everything should be okay. For sure, I did question some of the reporting lines and we did make some changes. But it was more about what was not written down on the charts that was causing the problem. In a nutshell, the problems were caused by silo-thinking.
Silo thinking is a natural phenomenon that develops in almost every organisation. Once you have different departments executing their individual objectives, then invisible walls can develop. It might be the head office lending department in a bank not working effectively with retail branches. It might be the conflict between the parts, service and sales departments in a motor dealer. Or it might be sales, marketing and operations in a manufacturing business that are at each other.
I don’t believe that people set out to create such walls but it can happen with the everyday pressures of the job. It’s not just caused by geographic divisions or with teams being in different corners of a large building. I have even seen it in open-plan offices where different departments are only feet away from each other.
In this particular client project, there was a lot of ‘passing the buck’ and a negative blame culture. Consequently, projects were being long-fingered or simply not being completed. This particular sales team had a prima-donna attitude about them and the operations team had become almost militant in defiance. Sales people were making impossible promises to customers and the operations team didn’t bother to tell them of short shipments. As you can imagine, tension was high.
My Anti-silo Thoughts.
• The U2 Connection.
In workshops with this client, I got them to think about a U2 concert in Slane Castle. We started by considering what a successful event would look like. The obvious and easy answer is cash profit. But we also added in other metrics, such as safety, impact on the local community and lands and reputation.
I then asked the team to identify all of the stakeholders that play a part in ensuring a successful event. This included security personnel, stage crews, cleaners, ticket sellers, stewards, food and beverage crews and more. This led on to a discussion about the integral role that each played and the implications on the objective if any one of the roles was omitted.
You see Bono and the boys may well get all the glory on stage and in the media after the event. But without all stakeholders playing a positive role, it would have been a failure.
By focusing on this example, it made each team stand back and think about a generic example first before moving on to reflect on their own behaviours. These particular sales people had to climb down from their high-horses and start to show more respect to other departments. And the operations team had to improve its communications.
• The Hospital Cleaners Connection
Back to the Richard Curran radio programme. I was saddened to hear the hospital cleaner saying that it is only now during the crisis, that their role in the hospital is being truly regarded and respected. Because hygiene plays such a critical issue in the fight against Covid-19, cleaners have come to the fore. They are justifiably being hailed as heroes just as much as the doctors, nurses and porters.
Now I don’t know anything about this particular interviewee or the hospital she works in. But for me, her comment raises two questions. Was the cleaning team being ignored or looked down on prior to this crisis? Well shame on the wider team if it was. Or is it that they themselves feel less significant than the highly qualified medical staff? In my view, both scenarios are unacceptable by the way. And it’s the function of leaders to ensure that every department is valued and respected at all times, not just in a crisis.
The Last Word
As a keynote speaker, I come across many futurists on the circuit. They always amaze me with their forecasts about what the future holds. Some of them are so on the money that I have to remind myself that they read trends, not tea-leaves. They can also be wrong.
As you can imagine, they’re out in force at the moment giving their view of how the aftermath of GURTAGE will pan out. With no precedent to base their views on, it’s mainly speculation in my view.
But here is one observation that I hope will play out. The current crisis has created a heart-warming community spirit. Because we’re all in this together, there is a common bond that has respect and goodwill for all at its core. My hope is that this refreshed culture will permeate into organisations and create stronger communities. ‘We’re in this together’ is a mantra that should not wain.
Alan O’Neill is Managing Director of Kara, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie if you’d like help with your business.
Alan is author of “Premium is the New Black”.
© Copyright. Alan O’Neill. All rights reserved. 2020