Silo mindset impedes

When a silo mindset on your staff impedes the church’s effectiveness

By Ronald E. Keener

Silo thinking; we’ve all seen it in our churches and organizations. Usually a staff member — it’s always the other guy — can’t seem to think in lateral terms, across department boundaries and grab the “big” picture.

Jeffrey Cufaude calls himself an architect of ideas, working to build communities of ideas and idealists. He makes his living, at Idea Architects in Indianapolis, IN, helping others think across the boundaries we put up in our organizations that impede creativity and getting the job done.

Church Executive asked Cufaude how silo thinking gets in the way of church staffs working more effectively:

What is an unhealthy silo mindset in any organization, church staffs included?

Perhaps we should begin by thinking about a healthy silo mindset and what it would entail. Silos exist in agriculture to store and protect grain. In an organization a healthy silo mindset is one that appropriate stores certain functional responsibilities and protects accountability for their results.

We need some division of responsibilities, but when that division becomes divisive it has crossed over into unhealthy territory. An unhealthy mindset is one in which individuals take almost exclusive interest in and accountability for only their part of the whole, without regard for how their contributions affect others and determine overall success for a church’s efforts.

They close themselves off from others’ feedbacks and treat their functional area as a gated community open only to select individuals to whom they grant access. But being healthy isn’t a permanent state, so we have to regularly monitor our organizational wellness in how the work is being done.

When hiring staff, how can a pastor guard against the silo mindset?

For any quality you hope to hire for I think a pastor has to exercise due diligence and examine how that quality is promoted and assessed in every aspect of the hiring process: the position posting, the job description, the application, the interviews, the reference checks, the employee performance reviews and compensation rewards, etc.

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If you want to attract candidates not predisposed to silos, you need to send a clear and consistent message that the church’s culture is one of interdependence among colleagues and not independence between competitors. Then you need to talk with candidates about times they’ve worked in interdependent and collaborative cultures and what they learned from doing so, how they see themselves supporting their colleagues and contributing to their success, and how they will assume accountability not only for their own specific responsibilities but also for the success of the church in its overall strategic objectives.

Briefly, describe a healthy mindset in the best of all organizations.

I’m a big believer in Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership philosophy. It’s not about us. We are here to service others consistent with our stated purpose and to achieve a desirable future that others will find valuable. Each of us brings unique experiences and strengths to this work and has specific responsibilities to perform.

But the organization will only be successful when we blend our respective capabilities and gifts with those of our colleagues in ways that allows us to collectively achieve more than is possible individually. Doing this will require open and honest dialogue and a willingness to entertain perspectives different from our own. At times this will create conflict, but let the conflict remain confined to ideas and initiatives, not personalities or politics.

How might leadership at a church transition from a silo mindset to cross functional teams without firing everyone and starting over?

Whenever you are attempting cultural change you need to have very frank conversations about the way things currently are and the way you want them to be in the future, a before/after set of stories. You need to explain the benefits of the new story for individuals and the organization.

Then you need to help people talk about what elements of the existing culture they would hate to lose and the meaning behind those elements. You can then begin to identify ways (if appropriate) to reflect that meaning in the new story and culture you are creating.

You have to recognize you’re changing the rules and some may resent that. They were hired with a certain understanding and now that’s being changed. They may feel this is unfair. So you give them an opportunity to enroll in the new story, to opt-in or opt-out. You offer them support regardless of their choice. Some may opt-out and that’s OK. Don’t try to hold people hostage.

We thank them for their service and do everything we can to help them transition to a new setting where they will feel more comfortable. And for those who opt-in, we need to keep discussing the transition and ways people can support each other, and solicit their feedback regularly. A great resource I would highly recommend is Managing Transitions by William Bridges. It’s a classic.
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We asked Jeffrey Cufaude about another organizational approach called systems thinking: Just what is it, and how does it make for a positive influence for a church staff?

His response:

In short it is looking deeper and considering the whole versus managing the moment and selective components. It goes beyond considering what’s happening now and explores why this might be happening, what policies or organizational choices might be causing current events, or what mindsets and mental models people hold that could be behind current behaviors.

Rather than fight fires, systems thinking asks us to focus on what might be the kindling or catalyst for the flame and to direct our attention there. The discipline of systems thinking has much to offer those who lead organizations and is well worth being a part of their ongoing professional development. As a starting point I would recommend people subscribe to The Systems Thinker, a monthly newsletter from Pegasus Communications.

Systems thinking provides a language and tools that a church staff could use to manage the genuine complexity of its efforts instead of trying to reduce problems to simple if-then frameworks that rarely are accurate. Churches are complex entities with a myriad of relationships involved. Systems thinking can help better understand the interconnected nature of these relationships, the various influences at play, and what interventions might more likely produced the desired results.
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