Patrick Lencioni knows a thing or two about dysfunction. As president of The Table Group, a San Francisco-area management consulting firm that specializes in executive-team development and organizational health, Lencioni is a frequent speaker on leadership and alignment. He's also the author of five best-selling business books on the subject, including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting.
In his sixth and most recent effort, Silos, Politics & Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers that Turn Colleagues into Competitors (to be released by Jossey-Bass in February), Lencioni tackles the dangers of divided workforces that stall corporate productivity and threaten financial success.
Told through the eyes of a marketing executive who launches his own consulting group, the book shows how silos develop. But Lencioni also illustrates how they can be deconstructed, by getting various business units to focus on simple, short-term, companywide initiatives. Senior Reporter Debra D'Agostino recently spoke with Lencioni; an edited version of his remarks follows.
CIO INSIGHT: What can CIOs learn from your book?
LENCIONI: Silos are particularly dangerous to an IT organization, which often requires both a cross-functional effort, and a changing of resources that can't always be anticipated. If people are working in their own departments and not seeing what others are doing, the risk is that you will spend a lot of money on projects that ultimately will fail.
Generally speaking, are CIOs good managers?
In other parts of the business, people understand that they need to be good managers and communicators. But in IT, it's easy to delude yourself into believing that if you know your functional area, that's all you need to know. Technology is important, but the CIO's role is to manage the IT resources in the company.
But CIOs don't operate in a vacuum. What about other business executives?
All silos ultimately get traced back to the executive team, which either encourages, or passively allows, coworkers to compete. Competition can be good as long as people realize it's within the context of provoking one another to beat the real competition. Ultimately, it's the executive team that has to make sure it's leading people to work toward a common goal, not individual needs. It's that inability to rally around a common goal that prohibits success.
How do you get everyone to do that when they have their own projects to handle?
A company has many projects, but when you are on an executive team, you have to ask yourself what the context is for all those projects. What are you trying to achieve as an organization? Most people don't think about what they are trying to do, beyond satisfying the objectives of a particular project. The key is determining a thematic goal, and prioritizing around it. What's the one big thing that has to get done for this quarter to be successful?
Sounds easier said than done.
And it is. This stuff is common sense, yet most companies don't do it or can't do it because it's just too hard. Human beings are designed to act in their own self-interest. But in an organization, if the people at the top don't help others work together, it's like cutting off the oxygen.