How to improve collaboration at work?

Cooperation, silos work Cooperation, silos work

What could be the best illustration of silos, politics and lack of collaboration described (and solved!) by Patrick Lencioni and his book? The Marvel movie, Captain America – Civil War.

Seriously? Yes!

You will find all the ingredients of corporate behaviour. Despite having the best team you can ever dream of, the teams focus on their own agendas. If your team members have different objectives, ego, lack of trust … It only leads to internal fights.

Blame is not for failure, it is for failing to help or ask for help,

Jørgen Vig Knudstop

First, let’s look at the leadership style of the 2 main characters before analyzing silos work and finally reviewing the solution.

Leadership Style

Captain America – Democratic Style

Captain America appears as the alter ego of Steve Rogers after he became a super-soldier. Rogers was born in the ’20s and grew up in a poor neighbourhood in Brooklyn.

After everything he went through, Captain learned how to become a leader and became the heart and soul of the Avengers team. He can formulate a new battle strategy as well as change an existing one as the situation demands. Despite his willingness to do whatever it takes, he doesn’t see the big picture. Steve always tries to do the right thing. He does not want other people to get hurt. He doesn’t resort to blackmail or play with people’s feelings; instead, he inspires them and promotes collaboration.

Tony Stark – Autocratic Style

This character is not easy to understand or describe. He sees right through the people he talks to. He never loses patience, has a rare understanding of people, and can be the keeper of their secrets. Iron Man acts more than he thinks. He is subject to frequent mood swings. He is always ready to sacrifice himself for others in his twisted version. Tony Stark seems like a “progress, not perfection” kind of character. Wasteful. Straightforward. Playboy. Billionaire. Philanthropist.

Iron Man firmly commits to his ideals. Tony Stark’s leadership approach is tougher than Captain America’s. He does not go through the same leadership development. He is using people to achieve his goals, and he is willing to resort to blackmail. In the movie, we see him invite a 16-year-old teenager, Spiderman, to participate in a deadly mission since he knew that the boy’s talents would help him a lot.

Outcome: lack of collaboration

Two talented leaders with different management styles assemble teams not to solve a common problem but to fight each other. Both heroes defend their point of view; neither wants to concede. Just imagine what they could have accomplished if, instead of confronting each other, they had come up with a collaboration solution and worked as a team.

Silos work

Silos, in a corporate context, describes the departmental politics or territoriality in a company. For an organization, it is never a good thing. This kind of rivalry between the personnel kills all productivity, and, therefore, the work is never done on time.

Most importantly, working in silos is enormous stress for everybody. People become frustrated and stressed because the management forces its employees to fight a pointless and often unwinnable battle.

This is precisely what we saw in the movie about the confrontation between Captain America and Tony Stark. Two leaders direct their teams to fight each other while they start the “war” goes unresolved. When the flames of war are extinguished, we see exhausted warriors whose struggles have been in vain. And despite their different leadership approaches, Captain America and Iron Man make the same mistake – war instead of teamwork and collaboration.

Not finance, not strategy, not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.

Patrick Lencioni

The solution for collaboration: Common Goal

In his own 2002 book, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors, Patrick Lencioni analyzes the 5 leading teamwork problems and comes up with solutions to each of them. His main conclusion is that people naturally split into groups and start to fight, but a leader can bring them together around a common goal.

The Lencioni model to remove silo at work consists out of four components:

  •     A thematic goal (focused, specific)
  •     Defining objectives
  •     Standard operating objectives
  •     Metrics.

A thematic goal

Management must intelligently construct a task, a single all-encompassing goal, which remains the key priority of the entire management team for a particular period. There can only be one such task in the organization. Moreover, this objective is not a long-term vision.

The specific objective is not a number, and it is not measurable. It is the entire assertion of the desired attainment. It needs a verb. You can call it a version of a training program because it connects people to create something.

The timeline is usually from 3 to 12 months, depending on the organization and the type of the business.

Thematic goal applies to all members of the management team. But some goals will indeed be directed at a particular area. Of course, they will largely fall under the responsibility of one executive. So all team members must assume responsibility for this task. They do everything that they can to improve the position of the organization and not just their department.

The key is to unite the entire management team, and therefore, all others around one goal. The team will have to accomplish it in a specific period.

Defining objectives

They are called defining objectives. They are components or building blocks that serve to clarify precisely what is meant by a thematic goal. Once a thematic goal has been established, the leadership team must then give it a practical context, so team members know what needs to be done to achieve that goal. The system must have the following characteristics:

  • Qualitative: Not quantitative, assigning numbers and dates to set goals only serves to limit the participation of the leadership team members who cannot see how they can directly affect the numeric goal.
  • General: Even though the defining goal seems to target specifically a member of the leadership group with functional experience in this area, all leaders must take on a very real sense of responsibility and accountability for achieving it.
  • Timeline: When a thematic goal is no longer valid, the defining objectives also change.

Standard operating objectives

In addition to the defining objectives, it is imperative to recognize other key goals on which the leadership group should focus and monitor. These are current goals that do not change from period to period. They vary from one company to another, depending on the industry. Standard operating objectives often include topics such as income and costs, market share, customer satisfaction, productivity, etc.


Collaboration model
by Patrick Lencioni

Once the thematic, defining, and standard operating objectives have been set up, the management team can start talking about measurement.

But do not forget that without these other areas, metrics have little or no context. Even the most motivated employees, including managers, will not be so motivated to collaborate and achieve results if they do not understand how they fit into the big picture.

Keep in mind that even metrics are not always quantifiable. Often these are the dates by which you will complete this or that activity.

Conclusion: Collaboration first

You can find many common points between the method proposed by Patrick Lencioni with the goal-setting system OKR (Objectives and Key Results). The is method was invented way back in the 1970s by Andy Grove, then CEO of Intel. Also similar to the Logical Thinking process, part of the theory of constraint elaborated by Eliyahu M. Goldratt.

Having the best individuals does not mean having a high-performance team. It does not guarantee that you will achieve your goal, primarily if they do not act as a team. The development of soft skills, like communication and collaboration, is crucial for teamwork. Good notions of change management will also be helpful. For more information, check the post on the change management process in 8-steps and Do we need soft skills?

If any questions, comments, please reach out! David Gousset.