Wednesday, November 25, 2009

From NO Silos to KNOW Silos - How Leaders Increase Cross-functional Collaboration.

A CEO recently showed me his new organization chart. Notice what was at the bottom:

No Silos


I asked him if his silos (meaning the various departments in his organization) were completely dependent on each other. He said of course not, each unit has its own goals and objectives. I then recommended that he re-think his “NO silos” stance to one of “KNOW when and how to open silo doors.”

As a leader, you are probably responsible for a group of individuals working in a unit, team, division, or department. You and your people are therefore accountable to produce a certain amount of work in that unit, right? Let me ask you this: How often do you and your people need to interact with others to accomplish work that is important for the entire organization?

It is my experience that the individual units in most organizations should operate independently (like silos), focusing on what they do best, most of the time. Yet, there are occasions when people in these units need to collaborate to accomplish important project and strategic goals. I’m not talking about the “I need some info to complete a report” type of collaboration. I’m talking about the “We need to work together to accomplish an important goal” collaboration. This later type of project-oriented working together requires the management of the tension between independence and interdependence. Too much independence leads to silo thinking, thereby limiting the leaders’ ability to see when it is appropriate to come together to achieve organizational imperatives. Too much interdependence leads to “over-collaboration,” creating unnecessary meetings and inefficient communications. Silos are OK, silo thinking is not. Thus, an effective leader needs a process that opens the silo doors and invites collaboration among the parts when it makes sense to do so (e.g., to achieve strategic goals).

The systems thinking action team (S.T.A.T.) is such a process. It integrates the basic tools of project management with systems thinking principles to create a systematic approach to help leaders bring the right people together at the right time to realize critical goals. Specifically, the Table below identifies the situations that call for applying a S.T.A.T.

When to Apply a Systems Thinking Action Team (S.T.A.T.)

1. Achieve fast results on strategic issues with a team

2. Improve employees’ buy-in to a key project

3. Strengthen the belief that the organization can reach an important goal

4. Keep a key initiative on track using disciplined feedback

5. Encourage an experimental, life-is-learning, mindset

6. Manage the tension between independence and interdependence

7. Develop leaders through action learning

The Table below outlines the steps of the S.T.AT. process. Don’t let the number of steps intimidate you, most of these steps can be accomplish in two meetings. In fact, I recommend that you take the first six steps in the first meeting. The next five can be taken in the second team meeting, while the final step – lessons learned – concludes your project.

How to Apply a Systems Thinking Action Team (S.T.A.T.)

1. Define a strategic issue

2. Create a cross-functional team

3. Write a SMART goal

4. Gain commitment to the goal

5. Develop team norms

6. Identify your top ten stakeholders

7. Write a brief scope S.T.A.T.ement

8. Brainstorm assumptions and risks

9. Generate tasks

10. Find leveraged action

11. Assign tasks and chart progress

12. Conduct an after action review.

Feel free to call me to discuss these steps. Which of them are you using now? How well do you KNOW silos?

Keep eXpanding,

P.S. Click on the link below (or paste it into your browser) to read about how my research on 171,000 leaders:

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