Silos Suffocate Your Successful Conference


Imagine an extended family of eight living under one roof together.

Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad and four siblings. Everyone lives in a separate room.

Imagine they never speak to each other except once a week at a Sunday lunch. Each engages in their own personal activities in separate schedules. They just pass each other coming and going.

Would you consider this a healthy family? Probably not.

(Conference adaptation of a great analogy from strategist and author Tony Morgan. Hat tips to authors Carey Nieuwhof and Tony Morgan.)

Same Conference, Segregated Silos

This analogy is a typical image of the traditional conference planning process.

Staff members, and frequently committee volunteers, share the same umbrella organization. It’s all under one roof, so to speak.

Each silo—functional department and committee—has an area that they are responsible for planning and implementing for the conference. Everyone does their part in isolation.

Rarely do they combine their efforts. And they usually only meet once or twice a year, if at all.

Like this dysfunctional family, everyone involved in conference planning—leaders, volunteers and staff, intuitively know it’s not a healthy process. But they’ve learned to do their part, working on separate parts of the conference all while serving the same organization.

Even further, many think this process serves their paying attendees best. They don’t know any other way to do it.

Dueling Silos

Unfortunately, this process leads to competition. The sponsorship department, marketing department, membership department, IT department, education department, meetings department, exposition department, publications, research department, conference committee, SIGS committee, certification committee, compliance committee, exhibitor committee, sponsorship committee and the multitude of content specific expert committees all operate independently of each other. They each have specific tasks to attend to for the conference.

These functional silos and committees then jockey for the amount of time they get on the conference program. They compete for budget dollars, marketing, exposure, top-billing, etc.

The result? A hodge-podge, quilted together conference schedule and experience that lacks focus and intentionality.

This is a very dysfunctional model. A successful business would never allow one silo to compete against another. Yet we allow it with our conference development.

What Ifs?

What would happen if everyone involved in the conference planning process put a unified purpose ahead of their department or committee agendas?

How might a unified vision for the conference advance the mission of the organization instead of just protecting turf?

How might the profession, industry or attendees grow and advance if we cared more about the conference vision and mission than our individual platforms?

Start With A Conference Vision

Your conference needs a vision. Everyone that works on any part of your conference planning process needs to know, Why does this conference exist? Where are we going?

Your conference needs a clear vision of where it is headed. And when you start addressing the vision, know that some staff and volunteers will complain. They won’t want to change. They will fight to protect.

When you start down this road, we have to be careful not to confuse a value with a vision. For example creating a welcoming, hospitable conference culture is not a vision for the future. It is a value.

And we have to be aware of confusing strategy with vision. You can embrace 21st century learning practices for your conference education. But that is not a vision for the future.

Even further, we shouldn’t confuse tradition with vision. Just because you’ve always done it one way does equal a vision for the future.

Eliminate The Silos

To more effectively eliminate conference planning silos, you’ll need a vision and strategy process that incorporates cross-functional planning. It can’t be a top-down process.

You need your leaders from across the functional departments and volunteer committees to gather together. Then you need to reestablish the why of the conference as well as its future direction.

Start by asking:

  • Where do you want to go with your conference?
  • How will you know when you get there?

That’s the first step to making improvements and creating a new direction for your conference. But it doesn’t stop there.

What’s the vision for you conference? How did you go about creating a vision, mission and strategy for your conference growth and progress?

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