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Unlock The Silo? Smash It!

The pandemic has perfectly illustrated how the world is innovating around us and behaviors as we all knew them are rapidly changing for businesses, entrepreneurs and consumers.

  • Restaurants have had to become amazingly creative to survive: Catering and take out efforts have come to the forefront.

  • Home food preparation and delivery services are proliferating.

  • Growing green produce at home has taken off and become businesses for individuals.

  • Telemedicine and virtual visits have increased now and will remain at an important strategy in healthcare.

  • Teams focused on vaccines developed warp speed response systems.

  • Online video chats for business leaders, teachers and students, family members, neighborhood groups, friends, and work teams have dramatically increased.

  • Innovative stock-trading platforms have continued to develop and become easier or consumer use.

  • On-line health clubs are the rage.

  • Increase in contact tracing technology and movement tracking at many levels have been developed.

  • On-line shopping is at its height; on-line marketing is even more creative now.

  • National centers of excellence continue to emerge and are focused on translational sciences, more complex and complicated than ever before..

Why shouldn't development teams be on this list of innovators? After all, these teams had to respond to immediate needs resulting from the impact of coronavirus on their clients, on populations who needed help immediately and in the long term. In many cases they needed to respond to the vast influx of new clients. They must respond to support many of the new innovations that have emerged. They need to adjust their approaches for a life in the future that will not be the same--yet the needs have increased and become more intense.

Unfortunately, development teams are specialists at creating and sustaining silos...moving to innovation means that the first step is breaking down these silos--smashing them for the future. Stopping these frequent laments:

She stole my donor!

Don't work with him, he cherry-picks the prospects. That's why his numbers look good.

You didn't reach your goal and you are bringing our entire department down!

That department did much better than yours during the last quarter.

I know that you identified this donor, but as the leader I will be working on this one. Mine.

He won't share any information on this new initiative.

The prospect team didn't identify enough opportunities for me so I couldn't meet my goal.

You can't reach out to her, we were going to work with her on a major gift.

Don't tell her about this prospect, we can save it for ourselves.

Don't tell her about this prospect, she might ask us to work with him.

I'm not helping on this event, it doesn't benefit my projects.

The list goes on. I believe that much of this problem in development comes about because of the way the metrics are used to measure performance. But there are other factors as well. Silos don't just happen, they are built, strengthened and many times consciously and unconsciously supported by organizational leadership: Lack of a team mentality. Need to compete for resources. Lack of fruitful communication. And what happens as a result? Unfortunately, unhealthy relationships form and people begin to lose sight of the overall goals. Camps are established and comfort is derived from these relationships--safety in numbers of allies.

I know a man who had talked with me about this situation and his discomfort with it. We were both living in it at the time. In the midst of the silo-building, Joe somehow stayed true to himself and his own values.

I was always amazed at how joyous he was every day, persistent and patient, optimistic. I observed how generous he was with information and ideas about prospects and donors and projects, and how gracious he was in trying hard to reach out and keep others involved and informed. No matter how someone contributed to a program, he was the first to offer magnanimous thank yous. Over time he never forgot about his donors and often would take photos and share a story with the donor even many months/years after the gift was made or the event was held. He is now the director of his own department in another state and I know that the organization appreciates him and his approach. He has the opportunity to create his own culture and I am sure it is a very healthy one. It will be authentic.

Joe very naturally did things that Gary Burniston from Korn Ferry recommends for smashing silos.

  • While Joe graciously accepted thanks for a job well done, he always gave remarkable credit to others.

  • He always spoke in terms of "we" rather than "I." He knew that he never did anything himself and only with others could they all win the game.

  • While he may not have stated it this way, he knew that the strength of the team is each member. Together there is "collective genius." Diversity in strengths helped the team to outperform more homogeneous teams.

  • Joe worked hard to help his team move from diversity to genuine inclusion. He celebrated differences.

  • I remember distinctly that he would check-in after a meeting with various individuals to say something positive about their performance or to thank them for their contribution. In his own way, Joe knew that people respond very positively to "being seen."

Linda Hill and her colleagues in the Harvard Business Review are very clear in their statement that "Innovation emerges when diverse people collaborate to generate a wide ranging portfolio of ideas which they refine and evolve to new ideas." In the process of doing so, this often involves passionate disagreement. But at the end of the disagreement, new solutions emerge.

Brent Gleeson, CEO of TakingPoint Leadership, encourages the formation of a unified front. He says that the best approach is to:

  • Create a unified vision: Silos kill productivity, waste resources, and jeopardize attainment of goals. Move past behavioral issues. Row in the same direction. The Executive Team needs to be steering the boat; as a group they need to buy into the department's long-term goals, objectives, and key initiatives. This will encourage trust and empowerment in the face of "my organization."

  • Work towards creating a common goal: Leadership needs to define the single, qualitative focus that is shared as the top priority. It is important for all employees to work towards understanding the parts of the system and how they make an impact on the goals.

  • Motivate and incentivize: What really defines a successful manager is one who is able to identify what key components motivate each of their employees and how to communicate this to wide-ranging audiences of employees. And incentivize the employees accordingly. Encourage input, teamwork and productivity.

  • Execute and measure: Measure the timeline, the benchmarks, delegation of tasks, and accountability. Team work and constant collaboration are the buzz words here.

  • Collaborate and create: To encourage teams, a leader and the team need to exhibit knowledge, collaboration, creativity and confidence. Leaders need to move to smaller, shorter meetings, cross-departmental training programs, constructive feedback from outside departments.

Smashing silos is a tough job and requires vigilance from all parts of the organization. But when work on the job becomes more palatable, when the organization is more efficient, when productivity increases, let's face it, all boats rise and there can be nothing sweeter. It helps to create a sustainable advantage for the organization. And everyone sleeps better at night.

1 Comment

Rosalyn Markovitz
Rosalyn Markovitz
Aug 03, 2020

This information is very good and valuable. Teamwork is so important to the success of any organization. Thank’s Gayle,


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