Breaking down silos and building networks in financial services


Yesterday I gave the keynote at a senior management offsite for a top-tier global financial services institution. One of the key issues for the organization – as for its peers – is building collaboration within and between a very diverse set of operations. Part of my presentation covered how effective organizational networks underpin the ability to create value. If an organization functions in deep silos, what is the value of being agglomerated into one company? Or more to the point, what are the lost opportunities in the missing connections and collaboration across divisions?

I showed the framework created by Harvard Business School’s Tiziana Casciaro in her excellent article from the June 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review, Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks. The key insight in Casciaro’s research is that while people claim that they go to competent jerks to get work done, the reality is that they gravitate more to lovable fools. The lovable fools are often the social glue that holds the organization together. Without them, communication can break down.


Source: Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks, Casciaro.

In my presentation I remarked that the high-level financial services industry was characterized by competent jerks. While most laughed in acknowledgement, a few seemed put out. But it’s true. Investment banking and corporate law in particular are full of people who are extremely talented, but not necessarily highly likeable. This has a strong impact on the effectiveness of collaboration and the structure of social networks in these organizations. There are no simple solutions, but recognizing these realities can help in designing ways to bring the right expertise to bear on problems and opportunities. I’ve written before about expertise location in financial service firms such as Morgan Stanley. While locating optimal expertise is a critical issue in large professional organizations, the harder part is getting connections between professionals to bear valuable fruit through a process of collaboration. The reality is that most major financial institutions are currently doing very well without being good at internal collaboration. It will be a gradual process, but over time the ability to collaborate effectively will start to be a key differentiator in market performance, partly driven by client perceptions. Clients are already getting tired of dealing with highly siloed banks, and are responding by allocating their business to different firms. There are major opportunities on the table for the large financial institutions. Enhancing organizational networks is at the heart of seizing these.