In working with leadership teams to drive a strategic transformation, we find one of the most broadly shared, and deeply frustrating challenges is overcoming silos so leaders can collaborate and integrate as a leadership team. We have had the opportunity to work with several organizations recently who have tackled this challenge and found ways to come together to create a new future. Their experiences offer some useful advice to others trying to make this connection come to life in their own organizations.

Coming Together to Create Scalable Execution

A major regional industrial organization was faced with the challenge of scaling a significant transformation of its operations and rebuilding its plant and equipment. The complexity and scale of the transformation would require unprecedented collaboration across the enterprise, but the leadership team was still operating in long-established silos. Each member was focused on their individual areas of expertise and not cooperating across department and divisional walls. This lack of collaboration extended down into the organization, delaying action and decision making on a broad scale. The division president understood that they needed to take steps to proactively address the silos and brought Bates in to help the leadership team ensure they were aligned and ready to lead this effort.  

Through individual coaching, team facilitation and the Bates ExPI™ multi-rater assessment tool, Bates helped them undercover and focus on the critical few behaviors that made a difference in embracing and tackling challenges as a team. We worked with them to create scalable leadership practices for both the president and the president’s leadership team. In a remarkably short period of time, the leadership team aligned around their goals for the transformation and started to speak with one voice. Their demonstration of those behaviors cascaded through the organization, and as others have started to emulate them and collaborate more frequently, they saw a fundamental shift in how quickly they are able to execute on their goals.

Creating a Shared Understanding to Blaze a New Direction

A well-established midwestern company had grown significantly through a series of small acquisitions and was undergoing a period of intense change. They were facing significant financial constraints, the need to downsize, and a move to a new office location. The leadership team, which had long history of operating in distinct silos rooted in their pre-acquisition company roles, found itself with an urgent need to collaborate more effectively to chart the future course for the enterprise.

With that in mind, they brought Bates in to help them find a way to work together to break down the silos, create a shared vision, and become a team that could work together for the good of the organization. To uncover the core issues and opportunities, we took the leadership team through the Bates ExPI™ multi-rater assessment tool.  The results of the peer feedback were eye-opening. Each leader could clearly see the part they were playing in maintaining the internal silos, and how they could best contribute to a shared path. Our facilitation process created a safe-haven to discuss challenging issues and how to use this new understanding for a more productive dialog. This laid the groundwork for a year of work to energize and realign the organization.

The team is now well positioned to lead the organization forward in a sustainable strategic direction. As leaders replaced the silos with open communication and began working together in a meaningful way, the organization as a whole has become clearer on where they are heading and is working together much more collaboratively. Because they also embarked on clearly defining a workable strategic plan that is situated in a more collaborative leadership environment, the organization is well-positioned for years of future success.

Four Tips to Accelerate the Shift from Silo to Collaboration

For those of you who are tackling the silo challenge, here are several tips to consider to more effectively start to build collaboration.

  • Bring in an objective perspective to level the playing field – when silos are deeply entrenched, this helps to gain an objective analysis of the situation and provide the team with a way to understand the implications of how they are working together, without placing blame or attaching bias.
  • Raise awareness of the importance of the leadership team role – and the members’ role on the team – it is common for executives to identify more strongly with their individual role in leading their teams, as that is where they operate every day and where they are typically measured and incented for success. Delineating and clarifying the importance of their roles in the broader context of leading the organization as a member of the leadership team is critical to foster enterprise level thinking, and ensures the rest of the organization understands their role in the mission. Developing a shared understanding of the role and defining the shared purpose of the leadership team itself is critical to aligning the individual members and being able to execute at scale.
  • Create a platform for open dialogue regarding the tough issues – organizations with siloed teams often have deep fissures resulting from unaddressed issues and long-standing blocked communication channels. Until the challenges are discussed freely and constructively, they can’t be resolved. This requires creating safe and supportive environments for having the hard conversations, and a commitment to following up on what is aired without penalty or remonstration.
  • Target leadership development around problem solving and decision making – the most significant trouble spots we see in creating a culture of cross-silo collaboration are problem solving and decision making; these are skills and capabilities that can be developed and enhanced with the right set of tools and techniques. This expertise allows teams to operate more efficiently and effectively cross functionally, and accelerates the organization’s ability to execute.

These steps are not always easy to achieve, but as these organizations have demonstrated, if there is a willingness to take the steps to uncover the challenges and do the work to create collaboration, the rewards and positive impact on the enterprise’s future can be immeasurable.

To learn more about team decision making, read this post.

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