Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors – A Book Review

Summary: An easy to read business book using the fable style. While it mentions Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, it really focuses on Silos. Perhaps the author sees them as the same, but I don’t believe that is the case. It is easy to read and provides a solution at the end. If you like fable style business books, this is worth a read.

Detail Review: Patrick Lencioni published Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors in 2006. It is one of his many (11+) best sellers.

Silos book

I normally start with aesthetics. The book is 211 pages with a blue/green cover. In the middle is a bottom up angled picture of three buildings i.e. silos. Its a somewhat nondescript cover. The writing is easy to read and chunked into small page increments. I can’t remember more than 5 pages being before a break. And often times a chapter was only 2 or 3 pages.

Before reading the book I jotted down my expectations. This is with little knowledge of the writer or the use of the fable style. Here is what I wrote:

  • Silos are built on authority, control, and decision rights
  • I’m not sure what the solution is other than to identify them
  • Some of it is driven by the need to execute
  • There is a need to collaborate
  • Its a fine line between execution and collaboration

Before I get to the fable, I really liked the introduction and the Use Cases and tools at the end. These portions of the book really framed the action for the reader.

The story follows Jude Cousins. He begins as a board level executive at Hatch, a software company. Early in the story he decides to go it alone. He begins with general consulting and has some success but he realizes that he needs a niche.

The story follows his path as Cousins Consulting. He has a family to care for and must navigate an economic downturn. He serves his clients well, too well. He works himself out of a job.

During the story are some subtleties I like. One of which was for Jude to learn from a client who said they didn’t have a problem with silos. Most business books unintentionally make it sound like there is some secret they know. Some insight, some magic. But the short anecdote about using JMJ as a learning opportunity was a nice curveball. It shows that sometimes you have to admit you don’t know. And to look in creative places for answers.

After some tribulations Cousins Consulting finds its footing with breaking down silos. The recipe for it is explained in the narrative at Batch Technologies, the aforementioned merged company. Jude creates a rallying cry called Thematic Goals. This and more detail is explained at the end of the book.

Ultimately, the lesson is one of shared goals. Lencioni believes in executive management establishing thematic goals. He then suggests creating definition (objectives). For example, at Batch Technologies, the company he was once a part of, the rallying cry was to Complete the Merger and Launch the New Company. This gave the executives a single mission. There were sub objectives to it. For example, eliminate redundant expenses and fill key roles. These were the defining objectives.

Toward the end of the book he transitions from the fable and to an instructional tone. He advises having a scorecard and allowing for debate. The debate centers around how the performance and priorities reinforce the thematic goals. He wants peer pressure and team building to enfold where everyone is in it together.

Does it meet my expectations? Somewhat, but it isn’t really that type of book. As fable style it is more about context. A journey to a solution the Table Group (Patrick Lencioni) has devised.

In a related piece, the Harvard Business Review published a story called How to Orchestrate Change from the Bottom Up by Katherine C. Kellogg. Its a story of change but aspects of it fit with how peer pressure and how shared goals drive lasting change. My favorite part of the article was how the medical assistants used particular phrasing to influence doctors who were reluctant to try new methods.

In my early career I built a program that addressed silos. It was at a large bank which had many mergers. There were different factions each had their way of doing things. Unfortunately our costs were too high. This program was a means to drive simplification across the technology organization. To be successful I used a few principles. One of which was make decisions as objectively as possible. Another was to enable the teams to come to their own conclusions. If I wanted sustainability, I needed them to buy in. Giving them a voice, a part of the decision making process, was part of it. I ensured it was fact based. While not the rallying cry that Lencioni endorses, it was effective. The silos, while present, were not destructive.

Conclusion: I read the book a couple of times. I’ve given it some time. It is easy to read and rather direct with its message. But ultimately this style isn’t for me. For those who like the narrative, or fable, style it is well done. And at the end it does give you an approach for breaking down silos. But as someone who has done it, I guess I wanted more.


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