Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars | Notes & Review

Posted on November 15, 2008


Patrick Lencioni. Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers that Turn Colleagues into Competitors. (Jossey-Bass, 2006).


As with Lencioni’s other books, Silos is a fable/parable that helps to illustrate the realities of these dysfunctions in real-life situations. While I felt that this story was slightly weaker, (and I do mean “slightly”) than the others I’ve read (perhaps I’m getting too “used” to his style now), it is still poignant, and I still very much enjoy the practicality of the real-life setting.

As with the others, often times it’s best to sum up from the back of the book, to the front.

Silos are nothing more than the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another. And whether we call this phenomenon departmental politics, divisional rivalry, or turf warfare, it is one of the most frustrating aspects of life in any sizable organization. (175)

Now, sometimes silos do indeed come about because leaders at the top of an organization have interpersonal problems with one another. But my experience suggests that this is often not the case. In most situations, silos rise up not because of what executives are doing purposefully but rather because of what they are failing to do: provide themselves and their employees with a compelling context for working together. (176)

Silo issue[s] [are] probably more structural and organizational than interpersonal. (142)

If there is a place where the blame for silos and politics belongs, it is at the top of an organization. (177)

To tear down silos, leaders must go beyond behaviors and address the contextual issues at the heart of the departmental separation and politics. (viii)

The good news is that this is all immensely avoidable. (ix)

A few things that seemed appropriate to note.

Jude (the main character) held values called the “three Rs”: his personal REPUTATION, the RELATIONSHIPS he had with executives, and the RAPPORT he developed during sales calls. (21)

There are a few key questions that are consistently asked when it comes to organizational management. The first is WHY? The second is phrased in a consultation schema: What do you want? What really keeps you up all night? What makes you mad? What makes you want to quit sometimes? What would you give your left leg to change? (41)

During an initial consultation setting, one of the characters sets the ground rules:

The reason we’re here today is to improve the working relationship between our departments. We’re not here to point fingers or rehash the past, but rather to create a better experience for our guests [customers], and for ourselves, by breaking down any barriers that might be holding us back. (50)

An icebreaker mentioned: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? But it can’t be the one you have now! 🙂 (53)

Another key question asked: Come up with a list of all the things that prevent you from doing your jobs the best way that you know how. (53)

Jude (the character in the book) then makes them role play each others’ jobs (58f.) And later suggests that they “create a crisis” (124) A crisis has as much power to tear an organization apart, even create thicker silos, as it does to tear the silos down and unite people. It depends on what the executive team does with it. (125) However, an organization “should find a way to rally people around a common cause before a crisis hits.” (124) But, if necessary, executives could role play, or creatively develop a real-life crisis as an exercise for the teams.

Jude also recognized the “difference it makes to be an outsider,” (125)

One of the most challenging things to do is playing different roles. “This is not about figuring out how to accommodate all our functional areas.” (135) “It’s almost like we need to disregard our titles when we’re together, and then put our functional hats back on when we go back to work.” (136)

We start to see a summary come together which will lead us into the theory itself:

  1. understand the power of a crisis
  2. think about what the thematic goal is
  3. think in terms of broader issues. (162)



The model for combating silos consists of four components:

  1. A thematic goal
  2. A set of defining objectives
  3. A set of ongoing standard operating objectives
  4. Metrics

THEMATIC GOAL | Definition: a single qualitative focus that is shared by the entire leadership team–and ultimately, by the entire organization–and that applies for only a specified time period. It must be,

  • Single. There can only be one. Something has to be most important.
  • Qualitative. This is not a number. It is a general statement of a desired accomplishment requiring a verb because it rallies people to do something (e.g. Improve, Reduce, Increase, Grow, Change, Establish, Eliminate, Accelerate, etc.)
  • Time-Bound. The thematic goal does not live beyond a fixed time period, because that would suggest that it is an ongoing objective.
  • Shared. The thematic goal applies to everyone on the leadership team regardless of their area of expertise or interest.

DEFINING OBJECTIVES | Components or building blocks that serve to clarify exactly what is meant by the thematic goal. Like the thematic goal, these objectives are also qualitative, time-bound, and shared.

STANDARD OPERATING OBJECTIVES | The ongoing objectives that don’t go away from period to period. The danger is in mistaking one of these critical objectives for a rallying cry (thematic goal).

METRICS | Measurement. Metrics could be numbers or dates (time frames).

A final quote that is frustrating for me, ’cause I’m currently living in one of these organizations:

All too often, executives spread their time evenly across all departments and issues, giving equal attention to every topic regardless of where it falls in terms of importance or progress. Meetings become show-and-tell sessions designed to give everyone time to talk about their departments and activities. This only reinforces silos and makes it more likely that critical issues get too little attention from the entire team. (201)


Thanks again, Pat, for giving us another helpful round of thought provoking ideas and suggestions. Simply seeing the problem from another angle helps. And for me, the most fascinating, and again confirming concept for me is that so much of the issues we face can be simply addressed, and in many ways, brought to a healed and productive direction, if only the leadership would take it upon themselves to do a little hard work. I pray that I would have the humility and wisdom to accomplish this kind of health (and therefore growth and effectiveness) in anything I lead.

And because this seems apropos,

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. – Proverbs 29:18