Guest Post: Using Food to Break Down Silos in Your Organization


wiljena.glover Guest Post: Misuse of Rules and Rewards leanThis semester, I am teaching a course on Operations Management in Healthcare to Public Health students. It's been really fun so far to spread the lean and industrial and systems engineering techniques to students from a different discipline and to continue to learn more about healthcare in the process (despite being a “convert” for several years now, there's always more to learn!)

The course is case-based and adapted after the course described by Lapre from Vanderbilt  (PDF).   In the class, I ask the students to present each case as a team. A substantial amount of their score for the class presentation is based on creativity and interacting with their colleagues.

The first case team discussed the classic case of Intermountain Health as presented by Bohmer and Edmonson (Bohmer, R. M. J., A. C. Edmondson. 2006. Intermountain health care. HBS Case 9-603-066, Harvard Business School, Boston). The case materials emphasize the differences between taking an asset-focused approach (e.g., silos by function) or a disease-focused approach (cut across the silos according to the specific disease to be treated).

To illustrate this difference, the student team created a fun activity. Here are the steps if you'd like to try it:

  • Assemble into 4 groups and arrange yourselves into columns (of desks, in our case)
  • Each column was given the following items:
    • Napkins
    • Hummus
    • Olives
    • Crackers
  • You can only talk to the members in your group (i.e., in your column)
  • You cannot get out of your seat
  • With your given resources, come up with the most delicious, visually appealing dish possible
  • We are your judges
  • You have 90 seconds…START!!!

Well of course it was difficult to come up with anything tasty, and people looked desirably at the resources of the other groups.

The second round, the teams were no longer columns but rows and they could share up and down the columns and across the rows. This made it much easier to create a tasty (and creative) snack:

Consider trying this activity the next time you need to break down silos in your organizations; it was eye-opening and filling!

Dr. Wiljeana Glover  is  currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the  MIT Lean Advancement Initiative.  Her current research interests include healthcare systems, improvement sustainability, and management innovation.

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