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How can the IKEA effect defeat a powerful silo, and, will the Empire strike back?

Organisational silos are a human construction of self-serving and ego-driven empire-builders. There, I said it.

Silos are one of the top things that get in the way of high performance.


  • Too many meetings

  • No-one owns a decision

  • A culture of mediocrity (vs excellence)

  • Tolerate poor performers for too long

  • Org Charts that fuel empires

  • Excessive interference (or no support) from the back office

We’ve all seen empires. It’s agendas and game-playing. The tragic consequence is a broken customer experience, some process duplication, and you’ll forever hear “them and us” rather than “we together”.

Well, the good news is, we already know 70% of what people learn is by doing.

And, researchers have known about the IKEA effect for a long time. When people have a role in assembling something (like furniture), they cognitively place a disproportionately higher value on their work.

So, if people learn by doing and value hands-on involvement, here’s an unoriginal plan to building silo bridges:

  1. Bring together a multi-disciplinary team of people from across silos

  2. Give them a meaningful challenge to solve and

  3. Give them a bunch of tools (like "Allen" keys) to build the bridge.

You only want the right people working together on the right things in the right way.

Sounds great right? Not quite.

If silos persist, it means you’ve got highly dysfunctional horizontal leadership.

The essential relationships are no longer the vertical ones within corporate silos,  rather the horizontal ones that link people with peers across boundaries and enable influence where you have no direct control.

The most important aspect of this is trust and to know how people can trust you.

The skills of playing nicely together in a sand-pit is more than just an elite “high-potential” group at the top. Your vertical team needs to put their trust in you as well.

Without horizontal trust, implementing a cross-functional team to diminish an Empire builder‘s influence, will be tantamount to putting lipstick on a pig.

Perhaps then you need to change the pig? 🐷

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