Does it feel sometimes like your people spend more time battling each other than they do the competition? This is silo behavior. Turf wars. In essence: Cross-function dysfunction. It is “us” versus “them” or “floor” versus “office.” Call it what you want, but at the end of the day it is simply cross-functional waste.
We usually tolerate these little flare-ups as nuisances that occur naturally among people (i.e. “Oh, they just don’t get along. No big deal.”). In reality, they create real disruptions that result in real drama and headaches.
If you want to put an end to this cross-functional behavior, look to your managers and supervisors from top to bottom. Instead of looking at those who create silo behavior, look at those who break down walls. What do they do that resonates with people?
Using our Denison Leadership Development 360 Survey (DLDS) and pulling out 3,000+ manufacturing leaders from the Denison database, we looked at the qualities of leaders who are effective at creating cross-functional harmony. (The DLDS is a leadership assessment that measures a broad range of leadership behaviors and their relation to organizational culture.)
With 3000+ Leaders, we get a picture of these qualities from over 32,000 peers, bosses and direct reports who rated them on their assessments.
The next step is to simply look at the leadership items and correlate them with a silo index. The top five items where the leader’s boss, direct reports, and peers correlated the highest were:
- Serves as a model that creates change in other parts of the organization.
- Inspires others with his/her vision of the future.
- Translates the vision into reality in a way that helps guide individual action.
- Engages others in ways that ensure buy-in and commitment.
- Helps people in his/her organization be effective at reaching agreement on key issues.
What does this mean? What can we draw from it?
From the top and cascading down, you need to get people focused on “we,” not “me.” To do this, you create purpose. The big picture. One common line of sight. This doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple priorities and strategies. It means getting people focused on a line of sight everyone can rally around and articulating it in a way that inspires people. You can do this as a president of a company, a plant manager or a second shift supervisor. You just have to articulate your organizational purpose in a way that resonates with people and gets them excited about what you all do, together.
Here's an example: A plant manager in Michigan who made boxes didn’t describe his company’s purpose as the ultimate box maker in the industry. Instead, he spoke about developing a plant that was fine-tuned, efficient, and poised for growth. The company’s vision and mission were to be the preferred container company for their client and stakeholders. But the PM wanted something that would resonate with his people. Something even the union people could get behind. So, he spoke of hitting metrics within the company of 70 facilities that would put them in the top quartile of all facilities. By doing so, they would become the “go-to” facility where corporate would send work. By becoming a trusted vendor with their clients, their business could expand and grow. All of this would allow the plant to thrive. As they grew, they would need to hire. When they hired, it would be family, friends and neighbors in the community.
In essence, he described their purpose as providing good-paying jobs for their community. This is a rallying cry. This is purpose.
In Patrick Lencioni’s book Power, Politics, and Turf Wars, Lencioni observed that emergency rooms are one of the few places where silos rarely form. The mission in the ER is so strong that the doctors, nurses, and other medical staff check their egos at the door. The focus is easing pain and/or saving lives. Lencioni’s example really hits home about the value of a strong organizational purpose. The lack of a strong mission or sense of urgency creates a breeding ground for silo behavior. People just focus on what is best for them. Basically, they are focused on “me,” not “we.”
Talk Big Picture
So, as a plant manager or supervisor, when you feel there is too much silo behavior, get the focus on purpose. Don’t accept units within your organization clashing as “just the way it is.” Vince Lombardi once said, "Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work."
Getting people to unite for the sake of the company and forget about their differences is what gets people focused on working together to benefit the whole. Talk about what success looks like from the operator to the controller, from HR to maintenance. Each aspect of the business is crucial to the success of the organization, and you cannot achieve success without each other. Lombardi and every other football coach know this. Whether it is offense, defense, or special teams, you get each to commit to one common purpose and then selflessly move toward it. That is purpose.
But don’t just lay out your purpose at a townhall or staff meeting and let it end there. Talk about it with your direct reports. Have them communicate it with their people. Let it cascade down. Bring your message to the floor through walk-arounds. Talk with people about how their work impacts the success of the business and the success of others. Don’t let your purpose be lofty or difficult to understand. Articulate it in a way that people can understand, like the plant manager from Michigan.
Encourage your managers to talk with each other. Work with each other. If it’s toxic, point it out and expect better. A simple response to two supervisors who do not get along would be, “How does your fighting help all of us achieve success?” If you are a supervisor who struggles with another shift supervisor, rise above it and reach out.
Build Your Bridge
The first step in building bridges is to commit to working with the people you have an adversarial relationship with. Why? Because if you offer an olive branch to someone one week and a week later you serve up a thorny bush, that is going to wreak havoc on your trustworthiness. Make a commitment.
The second step is to reach out to your key stakeholders. If you are a shift supervisor, it will be the other shift supervisors. If you are a production manager, it is probably quality, maintenance, or any other manager where the company relies on you and that person to work together.
Keep in mind when you reach out to someone you routinely disagree with, they may not understand where this olive branch is coming from. They may even question your intentions. Just let them know you think it will be better for the organization if the two of you are on good terms as opposed to bad terms. But it will be your actions they will judge you on, which is why it is important the first step be a commitment to the process. The hard part, as always, is staying committed to breaking down your silo.
When you go knocking on another managers office door, have a plan. As they sit there stunned that you now want to work together, know exactly what you will say. The plan may look something like this:
- Breaking down a silo is just another form of process improvement, so pitch it as such.
- Do not come across as righteous. It took two to tango, so be humble and stick to the script: “We” not “me.”
- Set regular meetings that are focused on process improvement (Where are we doing well? Where do we need to improve?)
- If you do not already have these, create handoff (huddles) meetings between shifts
- Begin to develop a relationship (this doesn’t mean you have to be lunch buddies) with the other supervisor/manager. It is harder to do battle when you are friends (or at least cordial). Get the two teams together a couple of times a year for a fun activity.
- Keep lines of communication with the two parties open. If an issue arises, address it right away.
- Coach your team members on why it is important to work together. Talk “big picture.” Make sure they are focused on constructive dialog with other units.
Be a Model
As a leader, one key aspect of your role is modeling the behavior you want to see in others. Therefore, it is no surprise one of the highest correlated leadership behaviors regarding silo behavior is “Serves as a model that creates change in other parts of the organization.” This means the leader is living the value and modeling the correct behavior. This leader gets people to put aside egos and focus instead on the success of the organization as a whole.
Finally, it is important to note that the whole company counts on its leadership to be steady and rock solid. If employees see bickering and battles, it is difficult for them to imagine the company is being run well. If the example set is that everyone is out for themselves, then employees will be out for themselves. If you create an environment where everyone is working together for the sake of a viable, well-run company, employees will work together.
Jay Richards is a partner and member of the founding team at Denison, a firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specializing in corporate culture and leadership development. For 20 years, Jay has worked with manufacturing firms in improving their culture and leadership.