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Patrick Lencioni Talks Turf Wars

by Angela Feehan

Q: How did you get the idea to write Silos?

A: It was actually a happy accident. I'd been working with lots of clients who were unclear about their priorities. People wanted to work for the good of the company, but there wasn't a common goal, or rallying cry to provide alignment. In trying to solve this issue, we discovered territorialism, silos, turf wars... the usual suspects.

Q: How does an organization's structure impact its politics? Are some companies destined to have silos?

A: Departmentalism in companies can drive this, but it's more behavioral than structural. We often run across department leaders who think their job is to run their departments. But this isn't working with an eye toward the best interests of the organization. As a leader, you belong first to the team that you report to... not the one you lead. Only the CEO as the privilege of belonging to the team that he or she leads.

Q: What do companies do "wrong" that allows silos to occur?

A: They reward them. Companies should be instituting organizational bonuses, awarded once organizational goals are met. If incentive pay or bonuses are awarded for individual achievements (rather than team wins), or if some departments are rewarded within an organization, but others aren't, silos can spring up--almost overnight.

Q: Are people aware that they're operating in silos?

A: Not always. Many clients tell us that they're relieved to learn this is a natural phenomenon. It often explains a lot of negative behavior: gossiping, sandbagging, sabotaging, passive compliance. Raising awarenss around this issue has been rewarding, but it takes the leadership team to address the issue. They're really the only ones with enough perspective and "height" to see over the silo walls.

Q: Are there any industries that are more or less likely to encounter silos?

A: Industries that see no threat to their existence have more silos than most...universities, government agencies. You need a threat...a sense of edginess around performance or people turn inward and start arguing for more resources. Tenure, long political budgeting processes and a lack of accountability for accomplishing anything are sure to invite trouble.

The industries that don't have this problem are those that respond to crises (emergency room doctors and nurses, fire-fighters, etc.). These are certainly some of the least political and divisive teams that you'll ever find. For them, disagreement about budgets and lines of responsibility are inconceivable. Or even worse, deadly.

And that's the point. When the stakes are clear and high - life or death - well-intentioned human beings can't help but focus on the overriding task at hand. Which is precisely what happens to companies in crisis: they focus around a compelling, over-arching goal.

In my newly released book, Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, I ask the question, why wait for a crisis to rally your team or organization? Create a sense of sharing and a compelling purpose all the time. We call this rallying cry a thematic goal. This involves deciding the one thing that matters most in the organization and rallying your people around it. Who knows? You may find that by doing so, you'll avoid a crisis.

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