Rx for Silo Mentality
by Carol Kinsey Goman
Organizations around the world realize that silo mentality and knowledge-hoarding behaviors are wasting the kind of collective brainpower that could save them billions. Or lead to the discovery of a revolutionary new process or product. Or, in the current economic climate, help keep their companies afloat when others are sinking.
And it’s not just corporate profits that suffer when collaboration is low. The workforce loses something too. Individuals lose the opportunity to work in the kind of inclusive environment that energizes teams, releases creativity, and makes working together both productive and joyful.
Here are seven insights for avoiding silos by harnessing the power of collaboration.
1. Collaboration is a leadership issue. The public and private sectors have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in portals, software, and intranets as they’ve tried to capture and communicate the cumulative wisdom of a workforce,
But collaboration is more than the technology that supports it, and even more than a business strategy aimed at optimizing an organization’s experience and expertise. Collaboration is, first and foremost, a change in attitude and behavior of people throughout an organization, a matter of leadership.
2. Collaboration is essential for organizational change. Over the past 25 years, I’ve worked with a variety of very talented leaders, and one thing I know for sure: Regardless of how creative, smart, and savvy a leader may be, that leader can’t transform an organization, a department, or a team without the brainpower and commitment of others.
Whether the change involves creating new products, services, or processes, or totally reinventing the way an organization must look, operate, and position itself for the future, success requires that the individuals impacted by change be involved in the change from the very beginning.
3. Visioning is a team sport. Today’s most successful leaders guide their organizations not through command and control, but through a shared purpose and vision. These leaders adopt and communicate a vision of the future that impels people beyond the boundaries and limits of the past.
But if the future vision belongs only to top management, it will never be an effective motivator for the workforce. The power of a vision comes truly into play only when the employees themselves have had some part in its creation.
4. Diversity is crucial. Experiments at the University of Michigan found that, when challenged with a difficult problem, groups composed of highly adept members performed worse than groups whose members had varying levels of skill and knowledge. The reason for this seemingly odd outcome has to do with the power of diverse thinking.
Diversity causes people to consider perspectives and possibilities that would otherwise be ignored. Group members who think alike or are trained in similar disciplines with similar bases of knowledge run the risk of becoming insular in their ideas. A confirmation bias takes over, encouraging members to reinforce one another’s predispositions instead of exploring alternatives.
5. Relationships are key. The outcome of any collaborative effort depends on well-developed personal relationships among participants. Not allowing time for this can be a costly mistake. For example, all too often, in the rush to get started on a project, team leaders put people together and tell them to “get to work.”
This approach proves less than productive if the members of the group haven’t had time to get to know one another, to discover one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and to build trust before they attempt to develop a common understanding and vision for the project.
6. Trust is the glue. Trust is the belief or confidence that one party has in the reliability, integrity, and honesty of another party or parties. It is the expectation that the faith one places in someone else will be honored.
I recently conducted a survey of middle managers in an attempt to pinpoint the state of trust and knowledge-sharing in their various organizations. What I found is a crisis of trust: suspicious and cynical employees are disinclined to collaborate; sharing knowledge is still perceived as weakening a personal “power base.” And, despite lots of lip-service to the contrary, too many corporate leaders still don’t trust employees with the kind of open communication that is the foundation of informed collaboration.
7. Body language matters. I’ve been collecting examples of the “body language blunders” that leaders make for a new book I’m writing about the role of body language in effective leadership. (BTW: If you have an example, I’d love to hear from you.) Here’s one that highlights the fact that people will disregard the words and believe the body language when a leader’s verbal support for collaboration conflicts with the leader’s nonverbal behavior:
“I was in an important meeting, and the presenter was telling the group how much he welcomed any input we could provide,” one interviewee told me. “But at the same time he was using both his hands to nonverbally push the entire group away. The amazing thing was that he repeated this sequence several times, always saying that he would welcome our input while making the exactly the same push-back gesture. It was all I could do not to absolutely lose it and laugh out loud. I almost did, but that would not have been good!”
Today’s corporation exists in an increasingly complex and ever-shifting ocean of change. As a result, leaders need to rely more than ever on the intelligence and resourcefulness of their staff. Collaboration is not a “nice to have” organizational philosophy. It is an essential ingredient for organizational survival and success.
Carol Kinsey Goman is an executive coach, change-management consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She’s the author of The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work, and her new book, The Silent Language of Leaders, will be published in spring 2011. To contact her, call 510/526-1727, email CGoman@CKG.com, or visit NonverbalAdvantage.com and CKGcom.