The biggest challenge I’ve had with building alignment as a team leader was the “silo megaphone effect”. In the past, I’ve attended a number of surreal stakeholder meetings attended by:
- head of product
- head of delivery
- a technical person
- a head of QA
- or possibly other managers.
Each participant makes statements that–on their own–made absolute sense. For example, the QA person argued for keeping a certain standard in terms of quality. The delivery person wanted to bring in the date as much as possible. The product person wanted to throw in as much scope as possible to make it easier to sell the product. I understood what they were saying. I could fully understand why they were saying what they were. They genuinely believed they were arguing for the overall benefit of the company, as a whole.
Nevertheless, if you juxtaposed what one manager was saying against the other, it was less than clear what the overall priority was. And this is exactly what I call the silo megaphone effect.
Each manager spent a lot of time with their respective team. So they had agreement amongst themselves as to the best course of action. But when meeting across department boundaries, the communication broke down. Nassim Taleb noted that firemen with much downtime who talk to each other for too long come to agree on many things that an outside, impartial observer would find ludicrous (they develop political ideas that are very similar). In particular, each manager running a department has a certain set of objectives and assumptions that are reinforced by discussions with people he’s managing, resulting in rather surreal coordination efforts.
The silo megaphone effect refers to the tendency for managers to specifically argue what is best for their particular functional area. The inadvertent focus is on local maximization. This happens by default, despite everyone having the best of intentions.
I’ve fallen into the trap myself, of arguing for a short term benefit that will bring in the schedule at the expense of properly solving a problem at an organizational level. Sometimes the schedule pressure was just immense.
The main way that I dealt with this was to cross-reference statements from different stakeholders, and then ask for further clarification. The aim was to achieve what’s called “referential integrity” in a database. Where every data point is fully linked up to every other data point. Ultimately, in order to delegate effectively, we needed to agree what the ground rules were. This way we could communicate them to the teams, and hold ourselves accountable to them.
Read more in Align Remotely.