An excerpt from “Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work” by Russell Bishop (The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2011).
By Russell Bishop, Editor-at-Large, Huffington Post, and President, Bishop & Bishop
A recurrent challenge confronting organizations large and small is that of silo behavior. We broached this subject when we began talking about misaligned leadership.
Breakdowns between silos can occur among internal groups, departments, or business units, as well as among external partners, subcontractors, or teammates on joint development projects.
Often, internal conflicts breed between groups because the groups have slightly different missions. If you are on the front lines, whether in manufacturing, interacting with customers, or managing suppliers, you are trying to get something across the finish line. In order to get that airplane manufactured, get that seminar delivered, or get that pharmaceutical released, you may have to deal with any number of internal groups before you can gain sign-off for the next step, much less for final delivery.
Hands down, compliance and risk management are critical to the long-term success of any organization, and there are internal groups within most organizations whose primary duty is to ensure that people follow procedures. Just as certain, there are times when compliance can become an end in itself rather than a truly helpful process. Most people will recognize this state of control as part of the bureaucratic turf, but what happens when the compliance system starts to create problems of its own? And what happens when internal groups fail to talk to one another?
Let's briefly turn our sights again to the example of the state of California and the policy of requiring compliance with nonexistent regulations. Those controls were initially put there for a powerful and positive reason: to minimize waste and assure appropriate expenditure of public funds. With the passage of time, the controls had taken on a life and purpose of their own, so much so that they were actually generating waste themselves, while inhibiting the delivery of services they were meant to assure. The problem stemmed from a situation that unfortunately is probably all too prevalent in government, as well as organizations large and small: Different groups are marching to independent drummers who are apparently part of the same band.
In this example, the state had several silos operating at the same time, each unaware of the impact one was having on the others. The legislative branch issued new regulations from time to time. Agencies developed their own rules and regulations. Contracts put the rules and regulations into terms and conditions. Various audit and compliance-monitoring groups enforced the rules and regulations.
Seems innocent enough, even logical, doesn't it? The hitch was that no one on the legislative or regulatory side bothered to communicate with the contracts group when laws expired or regulations changed. This is an example of where the "stop" part of the start-stop-continue equation would have been useful.
The regulatory folks were pretty good at the "start" side—they let the contracts people know when new laws or regulations went into effect—just not so good at letting them know when something was no longer required. I'm only guessing here, but I'm willing to wager that job descriptions existed detailing what to pass on to contracts for inclusion, but nothing spelled out a job requirement to let contracts know when something should be deleted.
Similarly, once the contracts department included something, the document was thrown over the wall to the group that audited compliance. Auditors were narrowly tasked with ensuring that existing clauses were adhered to, not determining whether those clauses still mattered. The predictable net result was that the agency spent considerable time and resources monitoring requirements that no longer were relevant, and the actual nonprofit service groups were spinning their wheels instead of providing the services for which they were funded.
If you find yourself or your group in conflict with a part of the organization charged with following rules or procedures, it may be worthwhile to sit down with your counterparts to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Larry Senn's advice about "assuming innocence" offers a wise attitude to adopt when you start the conversation—the other group is most likely trying to ensure that something good takes place. Start by inquiring what that good outcome might be. From there, if you still have some differences, let your counterparts see what the situation looks like from your perspective or that of your customer, and solicit their suggestions on what might make the situation workable for both sides. The main concern, of course, is that both groups act in alignment toward the larger purpose or goal of the organization.
A speaker, educator, author and consultant, Russell Bishop brings 35 years of consulting and operating expertise to the implementation of strategy and the role of leadership in improving organization performance. As senior editor-at-large for the Huffington Post, he brings his personal transformation background to bear in shaping the Living section. Bishop also serves as president of Bishop & Bishop, a consulting and coaching company whose seminars, coaching, and consulting offer individuals and organizations a new approach to integrating personal and spiritual values into their personal and professional lives. For more information on Bishop’s book, “Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work,” visit www.WorkaroundsThatWork.com or contact him at russell@WorkaroundsThatWork.com.