The Silo is Dead. Long Live the Silo!


First: organizational silos are not a bad thing.

They are created by pools of expertise, required in matrix organizations and in compliance-driven businesses.

Second: silos are bad – very bad – for the customer when the silos hide behind their expertise, hoard power and lack expertise in collaboration.

They also encourage passivity among those silos that perceive they lack power or influence.

Silo management, solution focus, employee engagement

Some organizations are very good at avoiding silo issues – my favorite example is Zappos (no job titles, no managers, no hierarchy!) – but it will be a while before that approach takes root.

Silos struggle for power and/or act aimlessly when the leader and executive team are not aligned around vision/mission, values and, in particular, the customer strategy (never mind the operational and organizational strategy). Bottom line, silos reduce collective impact.

1. The hidden cost is lost productivity and ineffective alignment with the customer.

2. A visible cost is the inability to deal effectively with change or competitive threat.

3. Lack of alignment also prevents the utilization of people and financial resources to become even more effective for the customer, e.g., your CRM system needs upgrading, but internal conflict constrains both thinking about the strategy for the system and the allocation of funds.

4. The people making progress on strategy and focusing on the customer are constrained in their customer engagement by the people working with a silo mindset.

But, this is not news. Having clarified the issue how do we use some Solution Focus tools to turn it into an opportunity?

Or, while we await executive alignment, what can we do to help the teams begin to collaborate? How can Solution Focus make a contribution?

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Here’s an example from a recent meeting where several groups had been finding it difficult to align around a customer experience project. Note how the language of the agenda is both solutions and outcome focused.

How do we know this works?

As one manager said after several customer co-creation kitchen tables, ‘We now never start a meeting, especially with cross-functional teams, without asking, ‘How will this discussion be useful to the customer?’   


4 Concrete Steps to get Diverse Experts to Agree on Change

First, the old recipe for getting agreement:

1: Gather cross-sector experts to talk about the problem and boil the ocean.

The problem with understanding something is that it gives us the illusion you can fix it. – Hart Blanton

2: Make sure they are speaking from their expert language silos, albeit it may sound like they are using English.

Winners – Losers

3: Expect adversarial perspectives by assuming that there may be winners and losers.

4. Make sure they feel under pressure to come up with breakthrough thinking even though they are pessimistic it will happen.

5: Get the experts to agree on the problem and still like each other in the morning.

4 new and better steps for getting expert agreement … and make progress on change.

Be the convener of better questions about the past, present and future.

Step 1: Clarify the problem and give the task some context with insightful analysis and storytelling about experiences from different perspectives. Expect and respect disagreement. Help the experts feel they are heard and engaged, and are on an equal footing.

People are trying to collaborate, just not each other’s way. Jim Duval

Step 2: Ask about exceptions to the problem. Assume that among the dense undergrowth of intractable and unsolvable problems there are things already working. Ask ‘Where have we seen examples of solutions that already exist?’ Seek details on the stories about exceptions and weave them into hopeful signs that things can change.

Change is happening all the time…our job is to notice useful change and amplify it – Gregory Bateson

Step 3: Let the experts unleash the potential of their collective knowledge and wisdom. Describe the future without the problem present. Explore possibilities from the perspectives of each of the key stakeholders. Leverage diversity. Endorse and amplify ideas about what’s possible. Ask ‘Imagine Harry Potter’s magic wand transports us into the future and the problem no longer dominates, what would each of the stakeholders now be doing?’ Let them see that they are speaking the same language about the future.

A powerful question alters all thinking and behaving that occurs afterwards. Marie Goldberg

Converge diverse views into strategic priorities

Step 4: Consolidate the rich diverse view of the future into a few strategic priorities. Think about partnership and consortiums to deliver the strategies, not silos. Be very clear on small steps towards making progress on the priorities.

Water the flowers, not the weeds. Fletcher Peacock


What other ways can we help experts agree on the future we want?


Tips on other better ways to convene and agree from my book ‘Monkey-Free Meetings’.