SHORT AND SMART - Breaking down the silos - it's in your hands

publication date: Apr 22, 2011
author/source: Janet Gadeski

Do you think that silos in your organization are your biggest performance barrier? Do essential changes seem impossible because they require too many people to work in new ways? You may be able to make a greater difference than you think - even without visibly challenging those fiercely defended territorial boundaries.

Productivity expert and author Russell Bishop tackles those issues head-on by putting the responsibility for change right back into the hands of individual employees. Here's his method, as reviewed by Harvey Schachter of The Globe and Mail.

Three questions capture needed changes

Bring staff together and have them write down their answers to three questions, each on a separate sheet:

  • What needs improving around here and why?
  • What could you do that would make your own job easier, more effective or more productive, and requires no one's permission other than your own?
  • What could you do that would make your own job easier, more effective or more productive, and requires permission, co-operation or approval? From whom do you need these actions?

When participants have finished, have them seal their answers to the first and third questions in an envelope, and give them to one person for safekeeping until the next meeting in a month or so. Then ask everyone to spend the next four weeks focused on their answers to the second question - what could they do to make a significant difference in their own job, and for which they didn't need to get anyone else's permission or co-operation?

Bishop says his clients find the process liberating and exciting. Within that four-week period of attention to matters they can change on their own, staff members complete long-standing projects or improve their performance to the level they expect of themselves.

Ripple effects

Best of all, when staff members return to the other two lists, over half of the changes they had identified when answering the first and third questions had already occurred. His explanation for that, according to Schachter, is that although someone might have felt their job would improve only if a colleague did certain things, "the colleague, when liberated, without being asked, had made the desired changes because he or she felt the need as well."

All of life breaks down into the same three divisions, Bishop maintains. You can control some things yourself. You can affect some other things if others co-operate, support, or allow you. Finally, there are some things you can't control at all. If you control what you can, he argues, and influence wherever you can, then you will become better able to respond effectively to those conditions you can't change.

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