#130-Dangers Of Silos
John (Intro): I have been on a quest to learn everything I can about leadership obsessed with what makes the best leaders so good. After running companies small and large for the last 20 years, today I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name is John Laurito and I’m your host. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this topic: What makes the best leaders so good? Welcome to Tomorrow’s Leader.
John: All right, welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dive deep on all things leader-related, related to leading yourself and leading others. I’m John Laurito, your host. So cool story. There’s a guy named Spencer Silver who worked for 3M, and Spencer’s claim to fame is that Spencer was in the midst of working on one of their projects, which was to develop one of the strongest adhesives that they possibly could. And it was designed to be something that would be as strong, if not stronger than like cement. And in his trials and his efforts to perfect this mix of different ingredients in this formula, he came upon something that was really a failure by his definition of the project, which was the adhesive that he developed was very weak and and it was not even something that would hold anything, let alone something as strong and heavy as what they were trying to design this thing to hold.
John: So now the good thing was part of 3M culture at that time was a culture of sharing failures and not just sharing failures, sharing everything, sharing information, sharing ideas. I mean, the company’s culture was really all about sharing collectively, learnings, ideas, successes, failures, everything. And so he basically threw it out there, as every scientist would, that that was part of that culture. Any kind of failed experiment would be shared with the group as, hey, here’s a failure not appropriate for my project, but it may be for one of yours. So fast forward about two years later and another scientist of the company, his name is Art Fry, who is a musician in a choir in a band and was frustrated one day a choir practice, because his bookmark would not stay on the music stands. And he was thinking about, OK, I need something to hold this up. And it just occurred to him he said, hey, what about Spencer’s adhesive that was really weak. Maybe that would be the perfect thing to hold the bookmark on and not rip the page of music when you put it, took it off.
John: So he went back and he tested it. And that ultimately worked not only perfectly as the first bookmark, but that actually became the formula for Post-it notes. I’m looking around here. I’m sure I have one somewhere, but they’re almost in every office across the entire world, which has been one of 3M’s best-selling products. So Post-it notes were actually born out of a failed experiment for a totally different product. And what’s great about that is that never would have come to have had 3M not really worked hard to breed this culture of sharing information and communicating and over communicating and really breaking down the walls and the silos between different departments. In fact, they went on and many, many of their ideas have been from similar types of things. They were working on trying to develop a chemical or a compound that would be acting as an auto body shops, a dent filler for cars when cars got in an accident. And instead of developing that, they ultimately developed a formula that today is used by dentists for dental moldings. It was kind of the perfect composition. They had another one, which was they were trying to build brighter roadsigns and develop some type of material that would actually illuminate the signs in some way.
John: And because of that experiment, they failed. But they came upon a solution that was microneedle patches that helped make shots more painless or pain free. So you’ve got all these different examples in that organization, an incredibly successful organization over many years of coming up with all these ideas and inventions and patents that have changed in most regards, how we live life, because everybody has been touched by one of these products in one way or the other. So I think about that and I think about organizations that struggle to break down these silos. They struggle, they say, in their mind, you know what, I want an organization like that where different people in that organization, in different departments are communicating openly and are sharing ideas and best practices. And yeah, that’s really easy to say, but it’s harder to do. You know, it’s actually and in many cases, leaders are doing things that are making that really difficult.
John: You know, and I’ll give you an example. I was talking to a friend of mine who’s a very successful person in a large company, and her department really relies and the purpose of that department is to actually work with other departments to help drive a certain type of result. And one of the things that she’s dealing with is the difficulty of actually doing that, of actually communicating and connecting with these other people in other parts of the organization. I said, well, “Why is that? That’s really kind of your job. That’s part of what you’re there for, really the whole purpose. And you can’t do your job unless you really can get out there. The whole organization”. And her response was, you know, “It’s just so difficult because I have to get every senior leader’s approval before I get in contact with this person. And then once I do get in contact, I need to CC every single communication to that senior leader. I need to keep them looped in on every single step and just the first step of getting their permission and everything. Just it makes it more difficult than sometimes it’s even possible or worth.”
John: And I’m like, wow, you know, I wonder if that organization really realizes how difficult they are making the key part of her job. And ultimately, she can’t be as effective as she wants to be unless she can get out there and do all the things that she can do. So it just made me realize there’s a lot of things we as leaders do unintentionally that keep those silos up. You know, another thing and I talk about silos. I look at silos. The my acronym for silos are self-interested, limiting organizations in an organization. So they are self interested, limiting organizations. They have their own priorities, their own goals, their own objectives, and their own way of doing things. And they’re very protective over that. And they’re very protective over making sure and defensive over making sure that nobody comes into their silo and they don’t want the walls to be taken down. They’re almost these hoarders of information and almost acting inside of a company as though the rest of the company is like an external competitor. It’s really weird.
John: But again, sometimes as leaders, we develop that and I’ve been guilty of it, too. I ran organizations, sales organizations where I had managers competing against each other. And highly competing because ultimately they were all vying for a certain spot on a scorecard and everything like that. And inadvertently I was building up internal competition. I didn’t even realize it, but internal competition and a lack of willingness to share ideas and help each other. And at that point, you get to scratch your head and say, OK, that’s gone too far. That’s not the intent. That’s not actually what I wanted to do in my effort to try and build a little bit of healthy competition, it ultimately spilled over to be really unhealthy competition. So
I see a lot of leaders that do that. Ultimately, they’re not seeing. That might be their blind spot. They’re not seeing what’s actually happening.
John: So the question I would put out to you as leaders is how freely do people communicate with each other, not just within their department, but all over the organization? How much contact do they have? How easy or hard is it for them to reach out across the line, so to speak, into other parts of the organization? How willing are those other organizations to help each other? Ask yourself that question and then ask yourself for examples of that. OK, ask yourself for examples of times where you have seen the marketing department help the technology department or the distribution department, help the researcher or manufacturing department. Ask yourself what examples of that have taken place. If you can’t think of many, then you may not be as good at that as you think you are.
John: And if you really want to know, take the pulse of your organization. Ask the people in that organization. Ask people who will give you honest feedback if they feel that there are these silos or they feel that there’s a really good, healthy level of sharing of ideas and best practices and feedback and all kinds of stuff that’s ultimately going to get the pulse of that. And then, you know, as the leader, your job is to communicate what your expectations are, what do you want the culture to be, and ultimately reward and recognize different examples of people doing it right. So it’s not just one thing to say it. Here’s what I want. But you’ve got to reinforce that when you see that behavior, that’s exactly what you want. I’m sure 3M looks back and says, wow, thank God we had that type of environment where people felt not just good making mistakes.
John: Because think about it, this guy, Spencer Silver, had a failure and totally the opposite of what he was trying. He was trying to design a strong adhesive and he designed one that was so weak. So not only did they breed the right culture where people feel it’s OK to make mistakes, but so much so that he felt comfortable broadcast into the rest of the company and saying, hey, I really failed on this. But it’s not a failure because my guess is somebody else can. Use it, and that’s really the mindset that they developed with that.
John: So that’s my challenge to you as leaders today, as how open is your environment and really think about that. Don’t just give a quick no, it’s fine. Really think about it. What? And I don’t care if it’s a sports team. OK, does your offense and defense, are they communicating really well together? Is your captain communicating really well with everybody else? Are all different parts of that team that’s important? Are they really communicating and really helping each other the best way possible to challenge yourself, to think about that. Where are the silos? Maybe there’s some and maybe parts of the organization are better than others. But you as a leader can take those down. If you want other ideas on that or examples of that, just reach out to me directly. I got tons of them because I want to help you and I love to hear your story. Maybe bring you out here whatever. I’ll take your story and share it with the rest of the audience here.
John: So in the meantime, hope this was helpful again, you know, just designed to get the wheels turning a little bit around your organizations and how you can make them better. Please, like, subscribe, share, comment, all that kind of good stuff and go down below. Give a five-star review and I will look forward to seeing you next time. Have a great day. Thanks.
John (Closing): Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader. For suggestions, or inquiries, about having me at your next event, or personal coaching, reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org Once again, that’s email@example.com. Thanks! Lead on!