Silos, Communication Breakdown and “I Don’t Know What You Do”

It seems no matter what the size of the organization we work with, we typically hear these three complaints: “We work in silos.” “We don’t communicate well.” “I don’t know what you do.” This seems equally true of an organization that has 30 employees relatively co-located or 30,000 employees spread across many sites across a large geography.

It can be a frustrating experience for leadership teams intent on breaking down those silos, improving communication across the organization and wondering why people just don’t talk to each other to discover what they do to hear the same challenges emerge time and time again. Because these issues are not one off. They can’t be solved with that being the end of the story. They need constant attentiveness.

There is no magic bullet. Ever. So, what is a leadership team to do? Keep these challenges in their sights and invest in the time and opportunities it takes to bring people together to talk to each other, to strategize together how to work across silos and be in conversations about what people do and how they contribute to the overall work of the organization.

We have been using Worldview Intelligence in a variety of settings with our clients. The program surfaces these age old complaints with a framework that provides a new lens of discovery, different language to enter into the conversations, a way to illuminate the hidden dynamics or patterns of behaviour within the silos and the organization overall and ways to think about a shared future that honours the individual workings of departments while making sure all are moving forward in alignment.

It is an iterative process. The same framework offers the opportunity for many different often interrelated explorations, including personal, professional, departmental or team, organizational and social systems.

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Worldview Intelligence Explorations – An Iterative Process

The personal exploration is a leadership practice as individuals become aware of the lenses through which they see the world, work or community and learn how to invite other people to share their perspectives and influences on how they see the world. It is a heart centered exploration as people first turn curiosity and compassion inwards toward their own journey and then outward toward another. It invites genuine listening and learning to really understand how life experiences, including day-to-day reality, are different. This is particularly true when people from different cultures are learning from and about each other and it is also true for what might be considered more minor differences like coming from a different community in the same city or region.

The professional exploration offers people the opportunity to understand how the views of their profession influence their own professional views. This includes everything from educational influences to the patterns and practices of the profession overall. It provides insights into communication challenges and points of tension with other professions or even within a profession. Within health care, for example, the different medical professions often experience points of conflict around scopes of practice and delivery of health care. Examining the worldviews of each of the professions offers insights and reminds people of the points of connection between them, offering new ideas, thoughts and strategies about how to communicate with the well being of the patient at the center.

The departmental and team explorations invite members of a team to reflect on the history of the department and team, even prior to the current composition of the team, how they think about and live into the future and the practices they use with each other and external to the team to get work done. It can illuminate how they treat each other and others outside the department, offering the opportunity to be intentional about their relationships.

When departments and teams share their worldviews with each other the resulting insights are often surprisingly dramatic and simple at the same time. The exploration surfaces things that can be blindingly obvious once illuminated but hidden until that time. Within an organization this could be the result of different leadership styles or perspectives on the future, it could be the lingering influence of conflictual relationships or any number of other scenarios. Across an organization, particularly one geographically dispersed, the location of a department or unit can have a significant impact on how they function and it is often unacknowledged until the system is mapped and explored.

Once departments or units across an organization share their worldviews with each other, the elements of a shared worldview can be elicited. The organization does not need a singular worldview, but worldviews across the organization should have elements that are common. An organization benefits from a diversity of views and learning how to draw out the greatest potential in addressing the issues and challenges the organization faces. The alignment across worldviews can be strategic and intentional as the organization moves forward on issues that are pertinent to its work and its future well-being.

Understanding what comprises the social systems of departments, units or the organization overall provides an opportunity to explore how to create consistent policies and practices across the organization that are also flexible enough to be responsive to local circumstances and influences.

When an organization takes the opportunity to collectively enter a worldview exploration, it also enters the conversation about how to work across silos, communicate more effectively because people are learning from and about each other and what they do. It is an iterative process. In one way it is simple. In another way it is difficult because it takes time, focus and strategic thinking to ensure ongoing attention to the age old issues. And it is important because these age old issues get in the way of getting work done.

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