Oct 18, 2018

Get lunch to defeat siloes (sometimes)

Jennifer Garvey Berger on Farnam Street:

So, I was working with an organization on these ideas, and they had a silo challenge in their organization, as many do.

The silos had gotten pretty ugly about one another. It had turned into a place where people in different parts of the company were talking bad about each other in the marketplace to their customers and undermining each other. So it had gotten really ugly. The thing that they thought was maybe the root cause was the REM system and how people were promoted and rewarded, and how bonuses worked. They had fiddled around with could they make bonuses more contingent about the success of people across the silo, but you can see how something like that might just amplify mistrust and dislike in a system. So they were getting nowhere.

So they decided to try to experiment with that, using this complexity of principles to learn about the system. We were trying to do something light and playful and looking not at the root cause, but what is the system inclined to do.

In this particular case, the system was inclined for people from one part to interact with one another and people from the other part to interact with each other, and then they just told stories about each other without knowing one another.

They set this little experiment up where they said, “I tell you what. We’ll give you a hundred bucks if you take one of those guys to lunch and go have a beautiful meal and talk.” If you’re going to spend $100 on lunch, it’s going to take a long time. So these people would spend several hours together in the middle of the day.

At first it was awkward, but over time they would start to talk about things, because they were there for a couple of courses. As they did that, they started to know each other a little bit. As they started to know each other a little bit, not only did their sense of mistrust go down, but actually, they began to see possibilities for building more work together. As they built more work together, then the silos themselves started to shift.

So, even though it was never more than about 30% of people who took the organization up on this offer at all, that 30% changed the culture a little, a little, a little, in a way that ultimately, those silos were not so strong, not so big anymore. And they made millions of dollars and new work happen, and they were learning about the system as they went.

Now, I once told this story at a different organization. That organization was having trouble with silos also. When I told this story, somebody said, “We tried exactly that thing, and in our organization, it so happened that about 30% of people took us up on this offer and actually did this thing” – it was some other social event, but it was basically the same – “When we saw that only 30% did it, we killed it. We said, oh, that’s enough. We killed it.”

There’s the difference between treating something like a pilot that has to work for everybody, and treating something like an experiment that can work for some people and then let’s see how it moves the system. There’s this realization that it’s not the thing you do, it’s the thing you do plus how you think about what you’re doing.