June 3, 2019

Silos in Climate Resilience

Joan Nodelman

About the Author

Joan is a specialist in governance, education and risk management with over forty years of professional practice. She is committed to helping clients achieve their organizational objectives and goals through holistic risk management.

Often, I wonder about the cause of silos in climate resilience, and how those walls deter effective climate action.

There are two kinds of failures: those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.

― Laurence J. Peter –

As an Asian woman, sometimes I am ignored in the workplace and social forums. I have difficulty accepting that sexism or racism are alive and well. So, often I fall into the trap of believing it’s my fault. In fact, I wonder if there is something wrong with me. However, I am blessed with strong emotional support from friends, colleagues, and a family who help me regain my healthy self esteem. I ponder these unpleasant biases and how they upset our work lives, create walls, and reduce productivity. 

Bias Creates Barriers

We are all subject to our biases. Sometimes this is good. But, sometimes our bias can lead us to accept unproven stereotypes and bad behaviour, make poor decisions, and harm others.  

Bias creates barriers and silos in climate resilience work. Experts are working hard to understand climate change, and knowledge is growing. As a result, the experts report new results almost daily, and sometimes they revise previous work based on new insights.  This is the nature of good science. However, it can lead to divergent points of view, sometimes based on hard data and sometimes based on raw emotion. Opinion can range all the way from denial to advocacy, and folks fight hard for their point of view. These differences can lead to strain in the team creating roadblocks to progress. Advocates may demand an urgent response while others block action. This can leave the organization exposed to risk and to miss opportunities. Team success can be the true victim.

We form business units to increase efficiency. In fact, units work independently, with their own chain of command and their own work systems. Each enjoys its own success and suffers the effects of its own failures.  In theory, this drives staff to higher performance levels, increasing the value of the whole business. Conversely, business units can disrupt smooth dialogue across business functions, set up barriers between staff, and spawn red tape. 

Silos and Clear Communication

Just like we store grain in a silo on a farm, business units can become silos. They may cling to knowledge and discourage contact with others. Even worse, they sometimes create internal barriers, when supervisors do not share staff knowledge with senior management. Their biases may cause them to misjudge the relevance of the information.  As a result, they can withhold key data. Decision-makers can only act on what they know. Thus silos can lead to bad planning, missed opportunities, and failure.

Silos can support bad behaviours that hamper clear dialogue. Bias may prompt staff to suppress parts of a report because they do not align with their worldview. Thus, senior managers may receive limited information. These behaviours can act like a poison to good risk management, killing response before it even starts. Honest reporting is crucial. In fact, both ISO 31000 and COSO ERM emphasize transparent reporting as the key to good risk management.

Silos in Climate Resilience and the Peter Principle

On top of climate bias, some managers may be out of their depth. As a result, they may have capacity to offer only limited judgement of the value of information passing their desk. In fact, in 1967, Dr. Laurence Peter described the process of skilled staff being promoted to positions for which they are not competent. We reward good performance by promoting people into positions for which they are unprepared. At some level, people reach the peak of their ability, and then we promote them one additional time. 

Falling prey to the Peter Principle, supervisors may withhold data because they cannot judge its relevance. This causes uncertainty and stress in the team. Staff can become frustrated and shut down. As a result, they stop sharing with the boss. Senior managers do not see the information they need to lead, and they make mistakes. All of this adds to climate risk. Suppressing important information is a costly flaw that undermines climate resilience.

Silos in Climate Resilience are Risky

Regardless of the cause, poor team communication is risky.  It adds to confusion that can lead to bad decisions. Teams support good dialogue with policy and training. Thus, they reward open discussion. At the same time, they offer training so that everyone can judge the relevance of data.  In these ways they reduce confusion, take decisive action, and break down the silos in climate resilience. These steps support success. 

In view of the dangers posed by climate change, decision-makers must act to safeguard their organization. They should:

  • Identify and remove silos and barriers to climate resilience;
  • Ensure that everyone on the team understands organizational objectives;
  • Ensure that all staff are trained to assess the data they manage;
  • Act on the advice of experts; and above all
  • Work with and respect staff, as their loyalty ensures the success of the organization.

Know Thyself

My experience with racial and gender bias taught me we all have blind spots. Bias is part of the human condition. Thus, we all have biases and we all experience the impact of the biases of others. To break down silos in climate resilience, first we must recognize our own biases. We must ensure that we do not make unfounded decisions. In resilience work, we must focus on evaluating the data we handle and apply sound judgment to the decisions we make. We must recognize the biases of other, but more important, we must recognize and address our own shortcomings.    

Call to Action

You are not alone. We are here to help. Seek the advice of climate risk and resilience experts. Engage in the debate. We all have something valuable to offer. We also offer a range of self-directed online courses through NodelCorp University Course offerings continue to grow. Check out our free micro-courses and we’ll let you know when we post extended premium content offerings.

Or, feel free to contact us, we are always happy to discuss your climate, risk and resilience issues.

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