September 21, 2007

The Ignorant Question

This morning at work we had a ‘town hall meeting’ for all the staff. The VP in charge of our branch of the company did a good job inspiring us with the fact that we are uniquely positioned in the market. Many companies are moving away from traditional advertising and marketing and are moving toward doing conferences, team building, and fun events to build their brand—and that’s what we do.

Then he opened the floor for questions. A few people asked very intelligent questions. During the VP’s initial speech and throughout the high level Q&A the word ‘silo’ kept coming up. It was used to talk about no longer being segregated into silos, that we should move away from a silo mentality, etc.

I’ve always been fascinated by group dynamics. I often experiment with them. I love to go into a museum and just stand and examine a neglected painting. After a while a whole crowd gathers because they think they might be missing something. I was impatient with the tentative Q&A. I’d been introduced as a new person early in the meeting, so I figured I could get away with anything.

I raised my hand, “What’s a silo? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

As they answered the question (a silo is a group of people who only worry about their area without involving other members of the company), the whole room loosened up and people started asking much more gut level questions.

Tonight they implemented one of the suggestions that came up in the meeting. On Friday afternoons the managers bring around a drink cart for anyone who’s still working at 4:30. After my ignorant ice breaker, someone suggested having everyone gather around the drink cart instead of it traveling. Another person suggested moving it to different departments so we could get to know each other.

I just got back from mingling. I know I did a couple doom and gloom posts about work, but the last few weeks have been getting much better. Ever since finding out that Eeyore is not my supervisor, I’ve been better able to manage her and my clients and my projects. I’m really enjoying the job now. Drinking and chatting with more of the people who work here has just reinforced that impression.

So get out of the silo, people, drink up and ask the stupid question!


Inkling said...

Brilliant AND brave! I wish you had been in the meeting my husband ran last night. I got to tag along and observe him talking to the facilitators he's hired to help lead a large group with him on Sunday. He kept talking about "de-inhibs", and "rap rescues" and such. While I had some inkling of what he meant, I did not have a clear enough picture to have been able to say that I felt competent to lead a group on my own. I didn't say anything, just assuming that the guys he'd hired knew what he meant. After all, they've been doing those types of things for awhile now, and two even have specific training similar to my husband's. But now I'm wondering if those guys just sat there, too afraid to ask, "What's a de-inhib?" because everyone else was nodding and looking like they knew what my husband meant. And I wish I'd been bold enough to speak up and ask the obvious, just like you did. Who knows what that would have done?

Really, you are a bigger asset to that company than they probably realize. Way to go. And if you ever choose to move to Canada, I just have to say that I wouldn't be beyond begging to have you guys as neighbors and coworkers.

Rachel said...

I'm glad you are starting to feel more comfortable. It always takes me a while to get in the groove at a new job, too.

You were smart to ask that question. I hate being a newbie in meetings where they use a lot of lingo that is incomprehensible to me. That just happened to me a couple of weeks ago at a teacher's meeting.

Anonymous said...

Good news!

Way to go.

At GE, we were encouraged to bring up the obvious. It's amazing how often what is obvious to you is a welcome surprise to others.

And, as you discovered, speaking the obvious can do wonders for group dynamics.

Beloved said...

I wish I were better at asking the stupid questions. I still suffer from that high school angst that keeps me from speaking up in fear of looking, well--stupid.

OTRgirl said...

I actually had people come up and thank me for asking the question cause they had no idea what was happening. I also had a couple people grin and say, "Hey, you're the silo girl!"

I like breaking the ice, even if it's at my expense. I can be the silo girl while being what I really enjoy: a catalyst for connecting people.

Everblest said...

I just learned about "silos" in my management class on Thursday. I would have never known what they were. As to the obvious, I just read a business book by Aldo Papone called The Power of the Obvious. Your post is like a review of all this week's classes. Thanks for the real world applications.

Mama Nabi said...

Good thing you asked - I'd been stuck with the images of barnyards and farm silos and grain elevators and corns... and eventually lost in the meeting. :-)