From silos to collaboration

 How do leaders shift from silos to collaboration? What does that look like? What are the main levers? Why would you want to do this anyway?

I’m often asked to help teams shift from operating in their distinctive business groups to being a collaborative team. Some of the underlying signals for silos are:   

  • Everyone takes their problems to the leader, and the leader becomes mired in the details
  • Work  doubles up as teams replicate services they can’t access within the wider group
  • Boundaries between teams become inflexible
  • People don’t ask for or offer help
  • Priorities aren’t shared
  • Managers work as their job descriptions not as passionate people oriented leaders
  • Managers  at the leadership table talk as if their team/work is the most important thing
  • Leaders are perceived as ego centric, and there is little ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our.’

There are a myriad of causes. The main one is lack of clear direction and expectations from leaders. Influencing factors are successive structural changes that were never  implemented, leaders in long-term acting positions, no processes for individuals and teams entering and leaving groups, little direction or establishing group wide priorities, out of date meeting agendas. The core of this is that people in the team don’t really know who they are working with so the connections between them are formed only on technical expertise. Rarely do people know what is important to their colleagues, who inspires them, how they managed a difficult situation, and criteria relevant to the distinctive group.


There were no ‘natural’ connections in a newly formed group I was working with.  Other than having the same boss, people had distinctive differences, which they emphasized. Over-hearing a lunchtime conversation I decided to use the criteria of ‘risk’ to explore and expand connections. We set up a continuum of loves risk, hates risk. Team members were scattered the full range on the spectrum. I then invited people to share one of the biggest risks they had ever taken. The stories that emerged amazed me, and the team. Stories ranged from near death travel experiences, a health scare, parachuting, to marrying their partner the first week they had met them – and the marriage was more than 40 years at the time of the session!

Establishing relevant criteria for people to connect is an art and science (sociometry); criteria must be purposeful, without judgement, relevant to the work of the group,and private to the group itself. When people connect beyond their job description, five results become evident.

  1. Greater trust is generated.
  2. Leaders are more able to meet at the leadership table with their groups ‘behind’ them, so their discussions benefit the whole group. They work ‘on’ the business and the decide how they will implement that in their team.
  3. Priorities are shared
  4. Leaders are more likely to share staff when others are under pressure as priorities are shared.
  5. Development conversations make sense as new opportunities are created within the group.Development conversations result in greater engagement, motivation and vitality within teams and across the group.
How well is your leadership team collaborating? What might that look like for your team, and across your organization? What results might be possible if your team refocused and worked ‘on’ the business?