Breaking Down Association Silos And Playing To Win

Formerly titled Playing To Win, 2009 Edition

Belonging to your association and attending your live events are no longer the only ways for your members to build their network or receive just-in-time education. How will you continue to meet their needs? By breaking your staff out of their silos and making sure they share the same sense of purpose.

I don’t know about you, but many of the organizations that I come in contact with still have some serious issues. They’re fighting for their lives to pull off a profitable event or retain members, but aren’t playing so well in their own sandbox. Here’s what I mean:

  • “Accounting needs info provided this way.”
  • “That’s marketing’s responsibility.”
  • “IT would never approve that.”
  • “Our board just doesn’t get it.”

Ever hear comments like these? At some associations, the organizational disconnect is so great they’ve identified their own regional chapter events as part of their competitive set.

But wait a minute. Aren’t they all on the same team? If the annual meeting logistics go off without a hitch, but qualitative scores or repeat attendance is down, the whole organization needs to step up to address the challenge. There can’t be departmental high-fives unless the organization is successful – and there can never be finger pointing for less-than-stellar results. At the end of the day, the critical measures for an association’s success should boil down to a member’s lifetime value and loyalty.

In tough times like these, there’s much less good news to share and the blame game tends to show its ugly head more often. Smart leaders know that the highest-performing organizations are the ones whose staff – individuals and their departments – communicate well, share the same sense of purpose, and genuinely try to help each other. They collaborate.

If you see the opposite – a silo mentality – evolving in your organization, try doing the following:

Over-communicate – Distribute a weekly departmental update on your major accomplishments and challenges. Keep it short. Set a good example.

Nip it in the bud – If a co-worker is playing the blame game, remind him or her that you’re all on the same team, with common goals.

Work toward transparency – Look for ways to make information traditionally only available in one department more accessible.

Understand dependencies – The more you know about all of your products, services, and buying influences, the better. You need to get inside the head of the major segments of your membership.

Prioritize – Many organizations are dealing with a crippling amount of information. Focus on two or three best ideas for improvement.

Cheer others on – Celebrating success feels great. Build a culture in which the team wins as much as, if not more than, any individual.

Take Away: It Starts at the Top

Discussing his book Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, Patrick Lencioni says: “People want to work together. Really. They hate infighting and politics, even more than the leaders do. By providing the context for working together, and holding people accountable for doing so, leaders have an opportunity like no other. Happier employees. Happier customers. Higher profits. Lower turnover. It’s a powerful concept, requiring less intellectual ability, and more courage and persistence than anything else.”

This post was reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2010

What are some ways you’ve seen successful associations tear down silos and focus on team work and their members? How do departmental silos impact your job? How can you create a culture of shared purpose?

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  2. […] that many membership organizations are broken down into silos. This week, Dave Lutz wrote about the importance of breaking down silos and working toward transparency. I think the “silo mentality” problem is less likely to […]

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