August 15, 2022
Why Leaders Are Operating in Silos Today and What to Do About It
The long-tail impact of working remotely has helped leaders create deeper connections on their own teams but far less connection across the organization. And the consequences are beginning to show.
According to research by Michael Arena an expert in organizational network analysis, pre-pandemic leaders represented nearly 50% of an organization’s bridging connections. However, since the pandemic, senior leaders lost nearly three times the number of bridge connections as that of an average employee.
This means that leaders have moved from the peripheral of their teams, bridging connections across the business – to the center of their teams, flattening their organizations and solving intra-department challenges.
Leaders Struggle to Be the Glue That Connects in a Hybrid World
While that alone isn’t a cause for concern, it does mean leaders aren’t creating the outside-in context for their teams as well as they once were, connecting the dots across work in the organization, and in general, fostering enterprise connectivity.
Leaders are often the glue that helps organizations solve complex challenges – something MIT’s Eric von Hippel calls “sticky” information. When done well, it spreads learning, accelerates the ability to fail fast, and creates meaning that can’t be derived exclusively from one’s day-to-day functional work.
But as this glue becomes “unstuck,” it’s creating challenges. In our work with leaders, we see this playing out in three ways:
- They have less context they’re able to share with their teams.
- They focus less on collaborating with other parts of the organization – especially those outside their daily workflows.
- They spend less time trying to link their team’s strategy to that of the broader organization.
5 Ways Leaders Can Close the Connection Gap
However, there are five core actions we’ve worked on with leaders to intentionally close these emerging gaps:
- Create moments that matter: We’ve worked with many leaders to create tentpole moments, and this includes various in-person and virtual meetings and conferences. When done right, these provide much-needed outside context (on the industry, consumers and competition), facilitate the sharing of learning across silos and provide a dose of inspiration. If this isn’t happening as naturally as it once was, then it’s important to over-index on creating these moments to ensure everyone sees the big picture.
- Build a collaborative culture: If collaboration isn’t happening as well across teams and functions, then it’s important to build formal, technology-based collaboration mechanisms to force the exchange of ideas. What’s important is that collaboration occurs – as this directly drives growth, engagement, creativity and innovation.
For one Fortune 50 client, we built an online collaboration platform that allowed for the co-creation of the company’s next three-year business plan. More than 85% of stakeholders engaged and participated – building what ended up being the company’s most collaborative plan ever.
- Purposefully create connection: For many leaders, lacking broader enterprise context simply means they need to take more time to ensure the plans of their team(s) ladder up to the broader company strategy. That line of sight needs to be clear and direct – with extra effort put in to ensure the dots connect to the overall strategy and remain flexible as the business faces challenges. More frequent, intentional efforts to ensure the linkage remains strong are key.
- Be intentional about change: With the risk of more leaders working in silos, it’s important to plan team and broader organizational change even more purposefully than you have in the past. That means being very clear about what will happen when, how all aspects of the change work together and the potential accelerators / roadblocks along the journey.
These thoughts can no longer be left just to chance. Once you have this laid out, ensure everyone on your team understands the big picture journey and where things stand at any given moment (like the “you are here” spot often seen on theme park maps). Time and again, we’ve seen situations where leaders understand the big picture – but their teams are frozen with confusion around the journey.
- Invest in relational capital: Given that leaders will forever remain critical to the company’s bridge connections, the best among them continue investing their relational capital in building and maintaining connections.
For one client, leaders in this business unit each had their own relationship management list, and they were accountable for informal check-ins each week with the people on their list. While it felt over-orchestrated for the leaders at the beginning, the connections eventually resulted in much stronger situational awareness for the team and a significant improvement in dormant relationships.
Each item above won’t make sense for each leader – but the challenges of hybrid working models suggest that leaders need to pick the ones that will most effectively help close the gaps that exist.
The future of collaboration and business growth depends on it.
Which one or two actions above can you take to have the biggest impact on your organization?
To break down silos and create better organization-wide connections to drive engagement and advance your strategy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to help you.
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