The Silo Mentality is Optional

Grace saw this unfamiliar cat in our garden the other morning, but had absolutely no reaction. Must to my surprise and delight, she didn't chase it off, but rather was fine that both could co-exist with their own needs. Such a good lesson for all of us in our workplaces.
Grace saw this unfamiliar cat in our garden the other morning yet despite her territorial (a.k.a. silo) mentality she had absolutely no reaction. Much to my surprise and delight, she chose a different option, and I was both impressed and then immediately aware that my prediction for how she would react was not warranted. For some unknown (to me) reason, Grace chose to share her yard with this intruder, a very generous and team-oriented decision that I admired, even though I couldn’t explain it. Each day we can make a new choice. What will you choose today?

Why is it that someone feels compelled to operate in the silo mentality? Grace gave me the opportunity to ask that question the other morning when she had an unexpected reaction to a stray cat in our garden.

What is the silo mentality?

The silo mentality is rampant in organizations. It’s a well documented and familiar scenario in workplaces, where individuals are solely focused on their own needs or of those in their immediate departments, referred to as silos. Rather than look out for the common goal, a person gets mired in her own needs. As you can imagine, this does not advance the greater needs.

It’s always so impressive when an employee goes outside the silo mentality. How refreshing it is when a colleague on our team actually focuses on the goal, especially when that means that his or her own needs take a back seat!

It’s an attitude that you choose — like Grace did the other morning

And that’s how Grace comes in. As regular readers know, Grace is a nervous dog, almost always territorial. She’s timid and wants to protect her turf. She is wired to protect what she thinks is hers, whether it be space or property. She is vehement about keeping Oliver and Dodger — the cats we share our home with — from her treats and toys. They only have to enter the room when she has a treasured marrow bone in her possession and she is on guard. She’s ready to send them away with a raised lip and snarl.

Yet the other morning, when Grace and I went out the basement door for our morning walk, what she did amazed me. As we rounded the corner from the door, she and I both could clearly see a stray cat. This confident cat was settled in the mulch, apparently stalking some mole or vole in the tall grass. Grace often pounces in that exact spot, delighted to hunt for these critters. Oh boy, I thought. Grace isn’t going to be happy about this! Unleashed, I wondered what she would do.

To my amazement, she did nothing. I know she saw the cat, but she chose not to challenge him. At no time did Grace show any signs of anxiety, in fact, she was calm and collected. Even though this cat was clearly in Grace’s domain, something she protects vehemently at all times, she had absolutely no interest to challenge. Her protective history made me think there would be a different outcome. but it was clear that it’s not possible to accurately anticipate every move someone will make.  

Improve your outcomes when you get out of the silo mentality

If Grace had chased off the cat, perhaps not a big deal. But her decision to let this sleeping dog lie (so to speak!) offered a fresh and mature approach that I hadn’t expected from her. In our workplaces, the consequences of the silo mentality become much more dramatic. Here are just a few of the possible issues that manifest when the silo mentality prevails:

  • inefficiencies in a process caused by team members who withhold information to protect egos
  • lack of trust among and across different teams or departments
  • inappropriate vying for resources for status versus productivity
  • loss of productivity due to energy spent on the initiatives that are counter to the big picture objectives
  • unnecessary management time spent to squelch unnecessary back-stabbing
  • lack of progress towards desired organizational goals

When you can step outside yourself, bigger and better things can happen. Moving outside the silo mentality is simply a choice we make, just like Grace did on a recent morning. Managers can — and should — take her cue. Be an effective role model by choosing to focus on the bigger picture, making things easier and better for all in the long run. What will you choose?

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