When you think of silos, do corn and grain come to mind? Or that self-serving department at work that won’t cooperate with anyone. It’s tempting to create our own silo in response. But that just increases the toxicity. Instead, we must bridge these silos and create common ground.
Let’s take an example. Picture yourself as VP of sales. Operations hasn’t produced or shipped a large order for a new customer. This delay might mean that the customer will be lost. The response from those in Operations is that they did get a heads up on the big order, they had to order new materials, and they were already working overtime. They do not want Sales to make promises that can’t be kept.
It is easy to see how these attitudes can grow into finger-pointing and stereotypes that can spiral out of control. How could you bridge these divergent views? There are four ways to tear down silos.
Listening. Understand the facts from the other party’s point of view. Learn “What’s in It for Them (WIIFT)” and then share the facts and goals from your perspective or WIIFM. Objectivity defuses labels and avoids finger-pointing and starts to build a bridge between viewpoints. It also builds respect and engagement.
Questioning. Use questions to surface as much factual information on the situation as possible. This creates a common understanding of the situation and can reveal new solutions. Consider the following six questions that address six different situational mindsets;
- What is a creative solution? (Innovation)
- How can we best serve the customer now? (Customer Focus)
- What processes or practices could prevent this from happening in the future? (Infrastructure)
- What is the most efficient way to deliver on time and with quality? (Efficiency)
- What changes to staffing, workflow, training, or operating practices will increase efficiency and quality? (Talent and Culture)
- What can we learn from this situation? What should we do in the future? (Strategic Thinking)
Think Win-Win. Searching for mutual advantage forestalls tension, withholding information, and any sense of rivalry. The process is not difficult, and it requires a question such as What are our alternatives to working this out? In reality, everyone wants to succeed, and that desire creates new solutions.
Moving Forward. The word solution is often misassociated with a perfect and permanent resolution. This misconception blocks progress. It is the equivalent of assuming that only scoring is an acceptable outcome in football, soccer, baseball, or any other sport. Foreward progress counts too. In sports and business, moving the ball forward counts as a win. Incremental steps constitute progress.
You don’t have to be a genius or have a degree in engineering to build a bridge. Ask questions, listen, and explore to discover mutually satisfying progress. It will burst existing silos and prevent the construction of new ones.