Be Willing to Open a Window in Your Mind

According to Investopedia: “A communication silo occurs when teams talk exclusively amongst themselves at the expense of big picture company goals.” (OK: who says “amongst”?)

Of course you’ve experienced this nearly every place you’ve worked. And, maybe like me, have chafed under it.

I was writing the financial annual report for a company where I worked. As the book was getting ready to go to the printer, the new legal counsel asked to read it. He informed me that we couldn’t use the term “division” to describe the company’s different operations—although we had for decades.

He peered over his half glasses and said, “The legally correct term is ‘strategic business operating unit.’ This is the only phrase you can use. And it can’t be abbreviated as ‘SBOU’ but be spelled out each time.”

At the last minute, we were facing redesigning the report.

But before we start pointing fingers at organizational disfunction, let’s look at ourselves.

The Silos in Your Mind

Our brains are set up to encourage siloed thinking. We carry this into our places of business and too often create the functional and organizational structures to maintain it.

Confirmation bias: Once we have an idea or opinion, we look for information to support it. And when we encounter anything that disproves or disagrees with our stance, we give it less weight in our decision-making or find fault with and discount it. And no amount of factual information will sway us.

Anchor bias: We are overly affected by the first piece of information we hear or remember about a subject. Unfortunately, many times it’s irrelevant: such as remembering how much we paid for something 10 years ago, which makes the current cost seem extraordinarily high. That means we can end up making a poor choice.

Affinity bias: We will favor someone we have something in common with or believe is like us.

Halo effect: Once we see a great thing that we like about a person, we let that positive glow color every other opinion we have about her or him.

Horns effect: After we notice something we don’t like about a person, we tend to attribute other negative traits or actions to him or her.

Attribution bias: We tend to believe our achievements come from our personality and efforts. And when we don’t succeed, it was due to external forces that prevented us from doing our best. But we flip this when looking at others. We think of their successes as more due to chance, and their failures stem from their personal shortcomings or behaviors.

Your Brain Is Looking for Shortcuts

It’s true: all of this is largely subconscious. It dates back to earlier human times, when our brains needed to make snap judgments about people and situations to ensure we stayed alive.

 But you can see how these biases and effects will skew your thinking as a leader and in making decisions:

  • You don’t want to hear ideas that conflict with yours. Then you could be wrong about something or need to take a closer look at an issue you’d already crossed off your list. (This was true of both the legal counsel and me.)
  • You prefer to make snap judgments, whether it’s about information or people. That frees up your mental bandwidth to do other things.
  • You enjoy being surrounded by those like you, so you feel more comfortable. It dates back to being safe in your tribe.
  • You want people to know you deserve and earned what you have. And, when you’re a little jealous of what others have done, you prefer to believe they lucked into it.

Know Your Internal Silos

This is not the time for blame, shame and justification. It is for awareness.

Invite others to challenge you: with their ideas and diverse backgrounds. Yes: you’ll have to think harder. But chances are good the opportunities will be bigger and the outcomes better.

Take some extra time to see what is influencing the decisions you’re making. Is it old or unrelated information that doesn’t really have much bearing on what’s happening now?

Don’t assume someone you like has other positive qualities just because you want them to. Look at their actions to make sure. And do the same with people you’re having trouble connecting with. Don’t dump negative things on them that you haven’t witnessed or know happened.

And, yes, sometimes we can look at others who seem successful and feel “less than” about ourselves. We want to pull them down a peg or two to lift us up. Choose to bring the focus back to you and enjoy your accomplishments, then be willing to celebrate someone else’s.

Start breaking the silos in your organization by noticing the ones in your head. Follow the advice of Mohandas Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world” for your people and company.