The Most Effective Way to Bust Through “Silo Mentality” and Get Your Departments Working Together

May 5th, 2016

It’s human nature to be competitive. In some cases, a bit of healthy competition can be hugely advantageous… but when a corporation’s productivity suffers because of inter-departmental competition, no one will ultimately benefit.

FPS SilosIt’s called the “Silo Mentality”, and it affects many corporate offices. It boils down to people within an organization feeling as though their goal is to out-smart, out-work and out-perform the other departments, and as a result no one can get as much done.

Imagine if your liver decided that it was going to undermine your heart so that it could be the star of the internal organ show. That’s certainly not helping your overall health and wellbeing – in fact, it would probably do quite a bit of damage.

We started Fire Power Seminars as a way to empower individuals to do their very best by challenging them to walk across red hot coals (yes, it is possible!). A big component of successfully walking across coals is being able to trust your environment and trust yourself.

Gradually, we began to see a need within corporations and organizations to build trust between staff members. When people trust each other and look out for each other, they will work harder, take more calculated risks and ultimately achieve greater success.

We have worked with many companies to break through the Silo Mentality. It’s not impossible to do – it’s simply a matter of uncovering the issues and working them out together.

Read on to find out how our programs work through deeply-embedded issues of mistrust and competition within organizations so they can go on to successfully become more profitable, more team-based, and more pleasant places to work.

(If you’d like to connect with us right away, click HERE.)

The Root Cause of Silo Mentality

Before we can pinpoint the solution, we have to look at the real problem that causes a Silo Mentality within organizations. When it really comes down to it, if people don’t trust and respect each other, they will not be able to work together effectively.

Trust and respect are not qualities that just “happen” in relationships. They must be built, nurtured and cared for in order to develop in a productive manner. Over time, people will learn to lean on each other and look out for their coworkers.

In the same way that trust can be built, brick by brick, it can also be destroyed bit by bit. In fact, if your company environment isn’t one that holds the space for employees to be able to openly express themselves and support each other, a culture of mistrust can quickly develop. Stifled feelings, inappropriate behaviors and ineffective habits build.

Before long, the Silo Mentality has taken over and you’re left with several departments that not only don’t work together well, but that actively work against each other by withholding information and stifling one another.

Sometimes these behaviors are the result of poor management, but often times these behaviors are simply a result of the leadership not recognizing that it’s happening.

However, there is hope! We have seen deeply distrustful employees crack open and start a dialogue with one another when the environment is right.

Team Building is Not Optional

We cannot stress enough how important it is for a highly effective team to have a chance to get to know each other through retreats, team building exercises and other activities that aren’t directly related to office work. In fact, one of the best ways to build a sense of camaraderie in the office place is through team building exercises that make the employees feel slightly uncomfortable.

By “slightly uncomfortable,” we mean an activity that lands somewhere between taking a stroll in the park and SCUBA diving in shark-infested waters. For instance, breaking boards or building bikes.

Both of these team building activities are just examples of exercises that an office worker may find slightly outside of his or her comfort zone. The amazing thing is that once you get people working on these types of projects, all the same behaviors and feelings that run rampant in the office become immediately apparent… the good, the bad and the ugly.

Here’s a little example of what we mean:

Not too long ago Fire Power Seminars was hired to run a corporate retreat for a mid-sized company. Specifically, they wanted to build trust and affinity between certain employees who were simply not working well together.

At the beginning of the day, there was one person who was very disruptive. He refused to participate, and subtly undermined everything we were trying to do to get the participants to open up and take part in the event.

It was immediately apparent to us that this individual was causing many problems in the workplace. Undercutting others’ sincere efforts, making everything about him, and preventing us from running the retreat were just a few of the things that happened during the team building activities.

It may sound like this situation was undesirable. The opposite is actually true! The amazing thing about this situation is that this unacceptable behavior, while it had become commonplace and generally unchallenged in the office, finally came to light.

The Magic Happens in the Debrief

We’ve seen it all. The team building activities are incredibly useful for pinpointing unhelpful habits among the staff, but the real magic happens afterward, when we host a debrief session.

In the context of the group retreat, we were able to talk about the disruptive behavior with the participants and address how it made the other team members feel and behave in response. Now there was an open dialogue in place, especially because the employees felt comfortable talking about what was happening for them.

It’s amazing how things can change in the workplace once employees are able to clearly see how their behavior is affecting their coworkers. When they fully understand the repercussions of undercutting another person, or competing within the organization to the detriment of the company as a whole, they’ll choose a different behavior next time.

It’s all about being able to see what’s really happening so you can make a different choice.

Constructive Questions for Better Understanding

We recently hosted a board-breaking seminar for the Graduate Admissions and Concord Law School advisors at Kaplan University. We handed a wooden board out to each of the advisors and had them identify and write distractions that interfere with their focus at work on one side. On the other, they wrote down how they would like to be functioning at work, with no distractions.

After a brief demo, we then asked them to break through the boards with their bare hands.

That’s the type of exercise that will definitely make some people very uncomfortable! Of course, the exercise is optional (we don’t force anyone to break wooden boards) and we walk them through the entire process.

After we did the exercise, we facilitated a discussion and asked questions like:

  1. How did you feel when you realized your challenge was to break a board with your bare hand?
  2. What kind of distractions did you need to overcome from within and without in order to achieve the focus necessary to break your board?
  3. Did you need to let go of any self-doubt or limiting beliefs in order to break your board?
  4. How does the focus needed to break a board compare to the focus needed in the workplace?
  5. How will you apply the power of focus to succeed in the workplace?

These questions all tie the experience of breaking a board back into their work in the office.

The wonderful thing about answering the questions together is that employees realize that, hey, we all share certain fears. No one is really alone in their self-doubt or limiting beliefs!

When the employees can feel the sense that the person working next to them is actually quite similar in many ways, they’re more likely to support, encourage and help them. They’re more likely to build friendships with people from other departments, and they’re more likely to choose not to compete with each other in a way that can be harmful to the company.

After we offered that seminar, the executive director reached out to us and said:

“The group from Fire Power Seminars did a great job both teaching and motivating the Graduate Admissions and Concord Law School advisors during the “board-breaking” exercise. The folks at Fire Power really did their homework; the preparation call really helped to make sure that we were all on the same proverbial page. During and after the event, the energy level was noticeably high; participants talked for weeks about their experience and many now proudly display their broken boards at their desks. I’d recommend Fire Power’s board-breaking exercise to team leaders looking to provide a change of pace in terms of sales and developmental training.”
~ James Roberts, Executive Director, Kaplan University, Graduate Admissions and Concord Law School

Team building works. Team building strengthens relationships within organizations and brings people together. It makes them care about each other and it helps them understand how important each person is to the organization.

If you’re ready to break through the Silo Mentality in your company, let’s talk. Click HERE to set up a call with Fire Power Seminars to find out how we can design a team building retreat that will not only bust through the Silo Mentality but leave your team much better off than they were before!

Karen Pfeffer
Karen is passionate about sharing powerful programs on communication, empowerment, team building and transformation. With a father from Kansas and a mother from Puerto Rico, Karen has a unique cultural mix that has inspired her to challenge stereotypes and “push the envelope” at every opportunity. She co-founded Fire Power Seminars with Connie Phelan in 2006 to empower individuals, organizations, and companies to achieve more than they ever thought possible.

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