Silos, Politics and Turf Wars by Patrick Lencioni

In 1986, soon after I turned 18, I got my first ‘real’ job in Wellington, NZ. I had come straight off the farm to launch myself into the corporate world. Not that I knew it then, but I was as green as the grass I had left behind. My uncle met me at the airport and said something to me about having to learn to deal with the ‘office politics’. I had no idea what he was referring to. Sure enough, within weeks, I was dealing with the cut and thrust of ‘office politics’ and it often left me feeling isolated. I eventually left the corporate sector only to find office politics alive and well in early childhood education.

Some twenty years later, now working in community development, I was dealing with a particularly challenging situation with a WA regional local government that spanned two communities. We were bringing money with us so I mistakenly thought the communities would want to work together. However, a history of inequitable allocation of resources had created a battleground firmly entrenching them on opposite sides of a turf war.

My new office was in the Perth CBD and the expansive bookshop, Boffins, was just around the corner. One lunch time, I went in search of a book to help me understand what I was dealing with and discovered Patrick Lencioni’s, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable about destroying the barriers that turn colleagues into competitors. The title of this diminutive book immediately caught my attention. While it was not the first leadership book I had read, it has been the most memorable and influential on me. Lencioni’s style is easy to digest and the lessons were immediately applicable. He writes with a simple story telling technique to convey a fictional yet realistic tale. His elegant approach facilitated a change in my thinking and I started to deal more lightly with leadership issues. In the years to come, I devoured many of his other books like The Ideal Team Player and Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Looking back, I can say with confidence, Patrick Lencioni shone the light on my pathway toward leadership development.

The three points from the book that stayed with me:

  1. Silos arise because the context for working together is not compelling. Barriers are created and people that ought to work together work against each other. Competing ideas mean people inadvertently start working at cross purposes hence the name office politics.
  1. Community or organisational leaders are ultimately responsible for creating a compelling context and making the independencies clear to everyone in the team. The fish rots from the head down is another way of articulating this same idea.
  1. A vision of the future is essential; office politics occurs when the big picture is not clearly stated so team members make up their own reasons for why they are there.

What I have gone on to learn is silos, politics and turf wars occur everywhere in life including in families. Ensuring the team is aligned is fundamental and this is even when the team is a life partnership. Competition might be healthy on the sporting field, but within an organisation, a community or a family, it can be destructive.

My leadership development journey started in earnest with reading this book and I have gone on to read many books since as well as undertake shorts courses, long term training and leadership development programs and executive coaching. I have made a lifelong commitment to my personal and professional development and many authors have made a significant contribution to my thinking along the way.

What is the most influential book you have read and why? Love to hear from you.

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