Unfolding plans 60 – Siloism has been on my hit list for a long time

A flyer offering a master class in ‘Eliminating Silo Mentality’ had to be of interest.  Siloism has been on my hit list for a long time.  It’s a perennial problem and probably a fundamental part of human nature.  People like to be part of a group and the easiest way of being part of something is to highlight that you are not a part of another.  If you are part of group A then a way of reinforcing your place in it is by identifying how different, ineffective, strange or downright useless group B is.

Structures don’t help either.  Members of a group look to their leader for leadership.  Leadership is a competitive sport though.  Winning at the expense of your so called colleagues only goes to drive wedges between the different functions that your organisation has set up to deliver customer value.  Structures create silos.

Elimination seemed too good an opportunity to miss and so off I went and booked my place.

There were about sixty people in the audience when I arrived.   The room was pregnant with expectation.  Nearly all of the major public sector organisations from across the region were represented and, not without some irony, everyone was sitting with their colleagues on their own round table.

I was no different and ended up sitting next to one of the younger members of the workforce.  Interestingly she leant over and asked what was meant by a silo.  She understood what a silo was in the context of a farm building but did not get the connection to the ways in which we work.  This is the second time that a younger person has asked me the same question and just shows how our jargon becomes embedded in the way we work.  Silos exist within our language.

Anyway, the event got underway.  Quite often I go to such events and after about thirty minutes I find myself asking why.  This is usually because what I had come to hear was not what was coming from the presenter.  Unfortunately this was no exception.  His presentation was interesting enough but was not about breaking down what I understood to be silos.  Perhaps he had an alternative understanding of what the word meant.

Instead the day was more about process flow, agreement to key tasks, allocation and acceptance of responsibility.  It was a way of removing conflict between teams in order to achieve joint outcomes.  These are noble enough objectives and the speaker was able to demonstrate success admirably in his suggested approach.  His techniques reminded me of the way that we have overcome some of our largest issues, such as achieving Public Sector Network (PSN) compliance, where we get everyone involved together, agree what needs to be done as well as who is going to do it and monitor the plan on a weekly basis, ticking off those things that have been done and focussing our efforts on that which is left.  It has worked for us yet we still operate in silos.

Perhaps it was too much to expect a silver bullet that would solve a problem that I have been working on for so many years.

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