It’s 2:00 PM and three department heads from different generations are sitting in a conference room, deciding on how to split a budget surplus between the three departments for the past four hours. In that time, the tension in the room has only escalated leading to frustration and arguments that have gone personal. 

Why has it taken so much time for these three department heads to make this decision, and why did the conflicts escalate so quickly and become personal? 

The answer here is silos.

From a business context, how silos work are through business divisions that operate independently and avoid sharing information, which occurs when employees are separated, often characterized by the department they work in. While silos are bound to exist within organizations as each department has its own niches and specialties, it is still vital for there to be cross-departmental communication so the organization moves forwards as a whole instead of each team pushing the organization forward out of sync.  

Going back to the scenario painted, what isn’t seen in that conference room, however, is that each of the department heads work on siloed teams with poor interdepartmental communication and each has information about their team and projects that the other two department heads aren’t aware of. 

A factor that is encouraging the tension within the room is the fact that each of the three department heads are all from different generations, and backgrounds, making their opinions and rationale for making this decision distinct. With each of the department heads unaware of the unconscious biases and the generational stereotypes they hold, they’re unable to use emotional intelligence and connect and understand their peers from the heart. 

Team Meeting

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Without even noticing, unconscious biases can skew an opinion on a person or object from a single glance, without ever interacting firsthand with it. Unconscious biases are formed through past personal experiences, as well as societal and cultural stereotypes taught as you were growing up. Paired alongside the innate desire of humans to fit everything they interact with into a premade “category”, humans are often willing to mold and reshape their perspectives on certain items so that they fit better within their categories. 

Generational stereotypes are an example of unconscious biases, where assumptions are drawn and believed by other generations.

Defining Work Characteristics

Unconscious biases and generational stereotypes can cause teams to feel frustration leading to creating a self-preservation and selfish environment. This can lead to detrimental consequences including the creation of general mistrust between teams, and a lack of cross-departmental communication. 

How can we work around unconscious biases?

The answer is plain and simple: cross-silo leadership.

Cross-silo leadership is a unique style of leadership that encourages multi-generational communication through developing and deploying cultural facilitators, encouraging people to ask questions, and organizing cross-silo dialogue with the goal of normalizing conversations between those of different generations and backgrounds in informal settings. Therefore, in high-stress situations, if those individuals are assigned to collaborate and make a decision, they would be able to do so and know each individual as a person, rather than a stereotype. Let’s dive a little deeper into each of those methodologies: 

1. Developing and Deploying Cultural Facilitators

Cultural facilitators are highly empathetic individuals who are able to facilitate conversations between multiple generations, understand where they’re coming from, and encourage individuals to keep an open mind. Cultural facilitators can be a crucial element in how to remove silos at work and resolve the conflict between the leaders. By ensuring that each cross-departmental meeting has a cultural facilitator, conflicts can be resolved and opinions can be better managed. With the cultural facilitator’s objective point of view and their assertiveness in driving the conversation in a healthy manner, they are able to ensure all participants are able to express their own and listen to other’s, opinions. They should also typically understand where each generation and perspective is coming from, so that when tempers are flaring, that they’d be able to explain where each individual is coming from in a language that the others in the room understand.  

Let’s head back to the scenario of the three department heads in the conference room. If there was an extra person there acting as a facilitator, they could have learned that one department head was coming from a conservative perspective, from their experiences with taking risks in the past, and another was coming from a risk-taking perspective, as they were optimistic about the odds. When the two conflicting department heads begin understanding and respecting each other, and the rationale behind their positions, they’re able to understand where the other is coming from and are able to facilitate healthy discussion and optimize your decision-making process.

2. Encouraging People to Ask Questions

Another important aspect to consider is encouraging team members and employees to ask questions. By asking questions, individuals are able to gain more knowledge and perspective from a safe and non-judgmental environment. By asking open-ended questions, and ensuring that there’s a clear understanding of what peers are saying, employees are able to hop back onto the same boat and begin sailing towards the organization’s common goals together. Come from a place of curiosity, and not judgement so that your team learns more from one another and the overall team performance improves.

How to Ask the Best Questions

3. Organizing Cross-Silo Dialogue

Polaroids of Collaboration

The last step you can take in how to break down the silos in an organization between generations is organizing opportunities for conversations to take place between different generations and teams within your organization. By organizing these informal conversations, employees from multiple generations, backgrounds and teams can get to know one another as an individual instead of a stereotype or first impression. This can encourage team members of multiple generations to have more empathy for one another and understand where each team member is coming from before placing their personal agendas and goals first. For instance, it can teach your team on how to connect with Generation Z when welcoming them onto your team.

Let’s go back to the scenario painted at the beginning of this blog post. It’s 2:00 PM and three department heads from different generations are sitting in a conference room, deciding on how to split a budget surplus between the three departments. Though they work on separate teams, these department heads have been given the opportunity to get to know and speak with one another ahead of time. Putting their differences aside, and adopting an open culture, they begin their discussion, asking questions, and reaffirming what each department head believes. 

After gathering all the facts and placing everything on the table, they then begin their discussion. Two hours later, a decision had been made that was in the best interest of their firm.

To learn how to use emotional intelligence to best integrate cross-silo leadership in your organization and encourage effective communication and collaboration from a multi-generational workforce, sign up for our biweekly newsletter here, where you will receive our latest updates, an inventory of free resources, and much more! 

Do you find it difficult to stay connected with your team and forming genuine connections with them? Book a call with me here; I’d love to listen and provide support in any way I can. 

Or learn more about how you can bridge that gap through our Using EI to Lead Multi-Generational Workers or about developing your team’s communication skills through our Communicating with an Impact keynote.

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