This excellent book by Patrick Lencioni has an intriguing subtitle: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors. It’s a quick read (or a short listen, as I did via Audible, thanks to Michael Hyatt’s recommendation to try that service), but page-for-page or minute-for-minute I believe it’s one of the top business books available today.Scratch that. Who says bigger business books are better? The real value of a book is how it changes your outlook and, at least to some extent, what practical difference it makes in what you do. Based on that, I think Silos, Politics and Turf Wars is one of the top business books of any size or at any price.The first 85 percent or so of this book is the fable of Jude Cousins, a self-employed management consultant who eventually develops a practice that helps companies beat the silo problem. Spurred by the insight of his wife’s trip to the emergency room to deliver his twin daughters (where no one had the time to be “turfy” and everyone across various departments had a common goal of helping the trio of patients) and by a client whose company was silo-free after having survived a “near death” experience, Lencioni’s protagonist was able to apply key lessons to his other clients.Lencioni’s background is as a screenwriter, and his fable is quite engaging. It helps to bring to life the principles he has uncovered. In the last 40 minutes or so of the audiobook, Lencioni outlines his theory of how to create organizational alignment. Silo-free organizations have a compelling context for working together, created by four components:
- A Thematic Goal: A single, qualitative focus or “rallying cry” that is shared by the entire leadership team and ultimately, by the entire organization-and that applies for only a specified period of time. This time can range from a few months to a year, based on the nature of an organization and the challenges it faces. You can only have one thematic goal. Something has to be most important.
- Defining Objectives: The temporary, qualitative components that serve to clarify exactly what ismeant by the Thematic Goal; shared by all members of the team (and usually varying in number fromfour to six). What must be done to reach the Thematic Goal? Again, these are time-limited for the duration of the Thematic Goal.
- Standard Operating Objectives: Other key objectives that an executive team must focus on andmonitor. These objectives do not go away from period to period and often include topics such as:revenue, expenses, customer satisfaction, quality etc. These aren’t “the rallying cry” because they are insufficiently motivational: they lack context, and they aren’t unique to a given period. But if you don’t acknowledge and monitor these indispensable essentials for long-term success, you’re in trouble. I personally found this part of Lencioni’s model extremely helpful, because it helps to balance the short-term strategic priorities with the things you need to do to keep the organization running. Operational doesn’t mean unimportant.
- Metrics: It is only after looking at the first three elements that you have enough context for meaningful measurement. Employees will be more motivated to “hit the numbers” if they understand how those numbers relate to the Thematic Goal, Defining Objectives and Standard Operating Objectives.
Lencioni has several helpful handouts available on his Web site as PDFs. His other books look interesting, too. Silos, Politics and Turf Wars is not officially part of the SMUG curriculum, but it is related. Sometimes social media tools are seen as ways to break down organizational silos. For instance, an intranet blog could theoretically be a great way to share knowledge across the company. But if employees in different departments see each other as competitors instead of as teammates, they’ll be likely to hoard information instead of sharing it. Social media tools are just tools. Without a shared purpose, the collaboration made possible by social media won’t happen.What do you think? Have you experienced silos in a large organization? Do Lencioni’s lessons ring true from your perspective?