Silos to Systems: Presentation by Lisa Snyder

By John Hunter, author of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog (since 2004).

Silos to Systems: Our Journey to World Class – presentation by Lisa Snyder at the First Annual Deming in Education conference.

YouTube video

In one of the videos included in the presentation we hear this quote

In this model you really are a team of teachers. And that is a shift in mindset a shift in thinking but it is also a very exciting proposition for educators to have a much more meaningful experience for themselves as well.

This expresses one of the universal themes in applying Deming’s ideas. The words don’t sound that impressive. The value of working together as teams cooperating with a shared purpose instead of as isolated individuals is not a new idea. And so there is lots of talk about teamwork, working together, etc.. The problem is most often there is very little behind the words.

So when someone hears things like “you really are a team of teachers” they think ok, I have heard that 5 times in various “new” improvement efforts in the last 15 years of my career and it means nothing. We work just as we have when no one talked about teams we just use that word a bunch because someone decided we should.

What matters is not using words like team, viewing the organization as a system, etc. but dramatically changing behavior so that those words are describing something radically different from the old ways of thinking and acting.

When you really do work in an organization where you really are a team of teachers it is a profound difference. But when you work in a place that starts using the word team a lot it rarely is a sign of difference. It is important to remember that just because many organizations talk about teamwork and behave in the old ways and so make it seem that this talk of teamwork is useless babbling that this misses the point.

Yes using the work teamwork while doing things the old ways (individual performance appraisals, jobs descriptions that people must fit themselves into instead of a system that adjusts to the strengths and availability of people, etc.) isn’t of value. But don’t think that means there isn’t profound change when the organization truly is a team working together. That change is profound.

Watch the video to get a small appreciation for how this has worked in Lakeville Public Schools. And for those in education in addition to gaining an appreciation for real teamwork you can gain an appreciation for open classrooms, flexible student schedules (including work with students of different ages) and other education specific information.

For those of you not in education think of the ways your organization is locked into tasks given to individuals to deal with (similar to 1 teacher for 1 classroom). There are likely innovative ways you can change your management systems to create real teamwork. I’ll say in my opinion creating real teamwork is much harder than people think but the rewards are even greater than most imagine they can be.

One of the areas real teamwork often opens up is there are more interpersonal issues to deal with (Deming’s understanding psychology area is a big factor). A significant reason (I believe) for dividing up responsibility and giving people authority for their area (again think of a teacher in their classroom) is managers can avoid more issues. They only have to deal with things that spill into some area where authority isn’t clear. When the system is not seen as a bunch of silos people will have disagreements and it isn’t nearly as easy to find ways to push the decision making into someone’s silo that says (okay Mary decides what happens hear and Joe decides what happens here since you can’t agree).

There are big benefits from truly working as a team but it often results in more messy interpersonal issues to cope with as a manager. And they don’t have to be straight forward disagreements they can be issues of people that don’t want to deal with even the hint of conflict being dominated by those that like to push for what they want. It can be messy. And it is messiest at first.

As the people in the organization grow into the new organization eventually that becomes a normal way to work and patterns of how to cope with challenges emerge. But still, in my opinion, there are challenges and it isn’t hard to understand why so many organizations prefer to talk about teamwork and the like while not adopting practices that are consistent with working as a team.

From the start the leadership received training. The first year that I came that was really the focus: getting the cabinet, the district leaders and the principals familiar with philosophy, the thinking and the tools.

So often organizations talk about change but the leadership doesn’t understand what that means and don’t understand the new ways of the thinking or how tools relate to new practices to adopt. When that happens it isn’t surprising they undermine any real change; just using different words to describe the same behaviors that they have been comfortable with for decades. Real change requires leadership to change the way they think which nearly always requires they apply the new concepts and tools themselves.

Upcoming Deming Education Initiative events:

Related: Applying Dr. Deming’s Ideas at the Lakeville Public School SystemMost the efforts (Deming, lean, teamwork…) I see “fail” are because they don’t do it.Management Advice FailuresA Powerful Tool: The Capacity Matrix

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