Silos and Silo Mentality

Because I live in Kansas, I am very familiar with silos. They dot the landscape and are often the subject of fine art work and photography.

Silo Print by Justin Marable

Because I interact frequently with managers, I’m also familiar with silo mentality. Last week I visited three clients. When I asked them about their greatest training need, all three mentioned silo mentality. One, a director of a local health department said: “I just wish people would say they work for a great health department, rather than a great program.” Another client complained that people in one program often disparage the importance of other programs. This isolated thinking by teams is lateral silo mentality.

Another form of silo mentality is vertical silo mentality. This is characterised by  mistrust between management and staff. Again a client mentioned mistrust and a lack of understanding between “upstairs” and “downstairs.”

In his book Group Genius, Keith Sawyer discusses “Collaborative Webs,” which he demonstrates are responsible for the majority of innovation and creativity in our economy. Obviously any organization plagued by silo mentality will not feature collaborative webs, and will become stagnant.

How to deal with silo mentality. At Laugh2Learn. We have developed creative play exercises designed specifically to address the problem. Like all of our programs, they are guaranteed to be fun, and effective. If they don’t do what you expect, you don’t pay.

Let’s break down those silos!


Validate Me

A few years ago I heard Dr. Rich Handley say that all human beings are like little antennae sending out a constant signal: “Validate me! Validate me!” I believe he is right. On more than one occasion I have admired someone from a distance; someone so self assured, so confident, so talented, who when I got to know them, confessed self doubt and a need to be validated.

We almost never tell people we value them. We can work side by side with someone we admire and they will never know how we feel about them. At Laugh2learn we have several creative play exercises designed to help people let their co-workers know they are valued. One of my favorites is “Good Gossip,” an exercise I almost always use to close a session. I divide the participants into groups of three and have them sit in chairs arranged like an arrowhead, two behind, one in front all facing forward. Once they are settled, I ask the two in back to talk out loud about the one in front for 30 seconds. The rule is they may only say positive things that are true. After 30 seconds I have them rotate so that a different person is in front and repeat the exercise, then rotate again, so that each person gets to listen to 30 seconds of positive information. It is amazing, and joyful to stand at the front of the room and watch the expression on the faces of the participants in the front chairs. Everyone leaves feeling good about themselves, and I leave with the knowledge that I have facilitated that.

You may want to try this exercise at the conclusion of your next staff meeting.

Whether you do or not, here is a challenge to all of you: Today, validate someone. Tell someone you know something positive about them. They will feel better, and so will you. If you get any feedback, let me know.