Gaining Perspective – How is yours serving you? Tips how to switch from a silo to a systems approach

Have you noticed when someone is really passionate about something they become single minded and may have difficult looking at the big picture?  They may neglect to think about how their passion fits in with or impacts other things.  This is sometimes called systems thinking.  When one thing impacts the system, it affects other aspects of the system.

We notice in our coaching practices that people who are really passionate about what they do, tend to have a ‘damn the torpedoes attitude’ where they can be blind to the needs of others, who may be equally passionate about what they do.  The result? Both parties are blind to the other(s) and think only of their own needs, not wanting to consider the needs of the whole system.  What results?  In our experience, each passionate being becomes entrenched, holding their position with no interest in learning about the interests of the others.  Each is a silo and they may become adversaries of each other.

Now think of an organization or a family where different participants have their own self interest and are prepared to hold onto this at the exclusion of others.  How does this work?  How does this approach contribute to the whole?  And how useful is such an approach?

In our experience, this approach may not be overly useful.  Some specialists in leadership theory would probably argue that a single-minded passionate focus results in success, a driven approach where the leader has a vision and will not  or consider the interests of others.  For some organizations, this may result in great success.  For many though, it does not.   For example, if each of the constituents has their own self-interest for discretionary budgetary spending, and the total of all self interests is greater than the pot of money, how does the money get allocated?  How does the organization decide whose passion is the greatest, or whose need will result in the greatest benefit to the organization, their clients and/or customers?  In many situations, confrontations and /or silo thinking are the default strategies and based on feedback from clients, these strategies have not served them well.

When asked what they are curious about, they are stumped.  “What is there to be curious about?”  They would say they know what their needs are and will speak louder, fight harder and make sure their needs are met with those discretionary budget dollars.  The notion of curiosity does not fit into their strategy.

So what if each leader, or family member, when passionate about a need that will help them be even better, more effective and/or happier became curious about the needs of the others vying for this same pot of money?  What if they became interested in the needs of the others, how those needs will serve the greater good?  What if they begin to look at the bigger picture, be it the vision and performance of the whole organization or the needs of other family members?

When we can become curious about the needs of others, what their passions are all about, we can begin to establish common ground and begin to collaborate to create even greater innovations.  When we learn about the interests of others, we can better understand how those needs fit with ours, how their passion aligns with ours.  Where are the common threads?  How can we work together to be even more innovative, perhaps blending the needs for the discretionary money in a way that we create an even greater impact for the organization?  What if we worked together as family members to determine how best to allocate funds to optimize the needs of all family members?

By switching our single-minded focus mindset to one of curiosity, we can begin to understand the needs of others, collaborate to support the entire system, have better understanding of how one new initiative could impact the whole and create innovations far beyond the singular passions of the individual leaders.

3 Tips to switch from single-minded (silo) to open and curious (systems) approach:

Hearing the perspectives of others, and being curious about it, can be a really difficult thing to do.  Especially when we feel passionate about something and we feel we know what’s best.  Here are a couple of tips that will help you switch from a silo to a systems approach:

1.  LISTEN: Taking the time to just stop and listen to another perspective and hear what they have to say allows for a lot of learning.  If you want others to hear you, have an open mind about what you are passionate about and see your perspective, allow the same courtesy and respect of them.

2. ASK QUESTIONS:  The easiest way to become more curious and seek to understand other perspectives is to ask questions!  Asking questions and digging deeper will help you understand where others are coming from, create a ‘bigger picture’, and more often than not create opportunity for growth and greater innovation.  It’s hard to understand a whole system if we don’t ask about it.  Where does your passion fit in with the bigger picture of the organization?  How can you collaborate and work together with others to leverage your growth and success?  Always be sure to ask open questions: who, what, where, when, how.  Why can carry tones of judgement to it and we recommend using sparingly if at all.  ‘Tell me more’ is a great way to dig deeper, be curious and learn from others.

 3. TEST YOUR ASSUMPTIONS:  Without fail, with almost all of our clients, when discussing communication blunders we hear “ I assumed” and it never serves them well!  ALWAYS test your assumptions.  More often than not what we assume is not correct.  How can you begin to understand another’s perspective or be curious about anything if you are making assumptions about what others may think, say, or feel? Paraphrasing is a great way to test assumptions to get clarity around an area you are unsure of: “What I hear you say is….. “,  “What I hear you want is ……” “How I hear your strategy is….”.  This allows for the other person to either let you know that you heard and understood their perspective correctly OR explain further if it isn’t exactly what they meant, even if it was what you heard.  Asking questions is another great way to test your assumptions if you are unclear.

How would your organization change if you switched from a silo to a systems approach?  What would you gain from it?

We want to hear from you – what’s working and what isn’t.


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