Silo working has been the bane of life for I don’t know how many years in countless organisations! If I were to ask executives in most major organisations what one of the biggest frustrations they face was, a large proportion would say silo working.
What is silo working? Seems an obvious question. Most people would describe a situation where a person or team independently carries out tasks, projects, or responsibilities. Without direct collaboration or assistance from others.
However, I would perhaps add something to this. In my experience, silo working arises from individuals and teams pursuing their independent agendas. Driven by their own goals and outcomes that often conflict with or only partially align with an overarching plan or vision. Consequently, teams find themselves, to varying degrees, working in opposition to each other, leading to a decrease in performance.
Why does silo working matter?
Teams in business (and any other sphere) ultimately strive to attain the highest level of performance outcome in their chosen field, regardless of how it is quantified or assessed. If we consider a team the individuals contribute to the outcomes in two key ways – their Capability and their alignment. When teams are in opposition, their capability frequently turns into a liability, as their higher impact and greater skills exacerbate the harm caused by their misalignment with the rest of the team or organization.
Every person is a vector
A vector is physics is a mass that has magnitude (impact) and direction (an orientation that measures its movement). So in teams each person is a vector – they have capability (the impact they make) and direction (alignment). If you examine the diagram below, you’ll notice a small team of individuals. The numbers on their chests representing their capability assessment (rated out of 10). For the purposes of this example let’s consider capability to include knowledge, skill level, ideas, insight, and characteristics like diligence and attention to detail. If we multiply these numbers together we get an overall capability or magnitude score – in this case 82%
The arrows next to each person indicates their alignment or direction score. Again rated out of 10. For the purposes of this exercise we will consider alignment or direction to include factors such as willingness or awareness of an overall goal or aim, willingness to set aside my own aims for the good of the team, resilience, willingness to action directives on time and to the standards required, behaviours and general approach to the work they do. A highly talented yet toxic worker would score low on the direction score because they upset other people. Even if their capability score is off the charts!)
As you can see the direction scores are also multiplied – in this case giving a score of 56%. Then these two scores are factored together to get an overall performance score for this team. See below
As we can see, this team of fairly capable individuals is currently delivering less than 50% of the potential. They are wasting 44% of their energy, skill, and contribution due to poor alignment.
Let’s take a look at another team of equally capable individuals. This time, they align behind a purpose or objective. As committed and engaged team players, they work together to achieve their goals. Each willing to set aside their own needs for the good of the team – a truly vectored team!
How do we create Vectorship?
In this second instance the team achieve their full potential. Any added capability or skill growth would further go to enhance their performance.
If you also do the math, you can observe that a highly aligned and seamlessly working team could achieve a higher performance rating of 50%. Surpassing system 1, Even with a 5 out of 10 capability. A team of OK individuals aligned would beat a team of high performers who are working against one another every single time! Synergy doesn’t always come from adding units to an equation!
“The Team you are part of has to come before the team you lead”Patrick Lencioni (The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team)
Let’s take a look at our Vectorship Model to create greater alignment.
Capability And Capacity
We will begin in the middle of the diagram with the team itself. Our aim is to build capability and capacity. Capability is skill, knowledge etc – magnitude or impact. As leaders we want to be constantly coaching and developing our team so each one can contribute more. We also want to be boosting capacity – the ability of each team member to apply these skills in a way that contributes to the whole.
The need for Leadership and Management
When i think about creating alignment I often think of push and pull. Management is the push – it helps control and organise towards the outcome. Leadership is the pul – it compels and draws people in. To create Vectorship you need both.
Let’s look at Leadership first. To create a compelling ‘pull” you need to have a clear and exciting VISION. People want to understand what they are contributing to. Without a clear vision it is very hard to create vectorship – there is nothing to unify the group.
As a leader there are four areas where we need to focus our energy. Envisioning our teams. Translating the overall vision into a narrative that connects with each part of the team. The HR will need to see a different version of the vision than the tech team for example. Connected but individual.
Then we have encouragement. If you want to have people push past challenges to achieve an outcome that is aligned, they need encouragement. Positive re-enforcement. Sharing your belief in them to build confidence.
Next we have to empower our teams – giving them the authority and autonomy to make decisions. Trusting them with the power to influence outcomes using their expertise and insights.
Finally we have Enable – this is about removing roadblocks, stepping in when obstacles appear. Our role is to clear the path so that the teams can focus 100% on execution of plans.
Let’s flip to the left of the model. Great management is the power and energy that fuels the system. However, without the vision even the best management will lead to misalignment. When forced from behind without anything to connect to people will look for line of least resistance. This may not always be aligned to overall plan.
The team will need clear Goals so they can focus on the right things. This helps the team recognise the key objectives that are required individually to support the business vision.
They will need clear feedback to ensure they understand when they are on track or off track. It is really important that this includes feedback around alignment. If a team members starts to stray and go off on their own path they need bringing back into the core direction.
Are the systems and processes in the business geared up to support the team to perform their roles? Where can these systems be improved and made easier?
Finally do the team have the tools and resources to perform? What more can you do to support them?
Vectorship – the benefits
Clearly, when the team is aligned and you as a leader are providing the right balance between leading and managing you will create a team that is growing. The capability will increase. The capacity or ability to apply this capability increases. The result is improved performance, greater efficiency and effectiveness. It will also result in more engaged teams. Fewer frustrations. Less toxicity and a more enjoyable place to work.