The Curse of Silent Organizations


By Jack Rosenberger

A “silent organization” is one in which employees below the managerial or leadership levels are actively encouraged to keep their mouths shut. In short, don’t suggest any new ideas. Don’t offer your opinion—or anyone else’s. Don’t develop a bold, novel initiative and try to implement it. Don’t do anything but the tasks outlined in your job description.

A silent organization is, by nature, a hierarchical entity in which decisions come from the top down. This is the unholy domain of command-and-control “leadership.” The employees with the biggest offices and the biggest salaries make the biggest (and smallest) decisions. No one else matters.

In a silent organization, the company’s most important asset—its employees—quickly learn that their ideas are unwelcome. Their emails are routinely ignored, their comments during staff meetings are met with ridicule or abject rejection, and workplace tools, such as collaborative and social software or even an old-fashioned suggestion box, are nonexistent. Employees are taught by example to keep their head down and just do their job. Individuals who persist in trying to transform the organization and help it enter the 21st century will find that their best efforts are rewarded with anger, criticism, or punishment.  

We’ve reached the inevitable point in this blog post where you, the CIO or IT leader, needs to ask yourself if you work for a silent organization. If you do, it’s probably time to update your resume. Also, you need to honestly evaluate your IT department. Does it encourage employee input and participation or dreary, soul-stifling silence?  

A true leader is one who empowers his or her employees so they can also be leaders. In their aspirational “How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge” blog post for the Harvard Business Review, Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarre write about how employees who lack authority can “inspire others and multiply their impact” in the workplace. Hamel and LaBarre identify these individuals as eight different types of de facto leaders: seers, contrarians, architects, mentors, connectors, bushwhackers, guardians and citizens. A great leader—and one who is admired and respected by his or her fellow employees—is a leader who nurtures, guides and enables others to be the best leader they are capable of being. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen in a silent organization.

About the Author

Jack Rosenberger is the managing editor of CIO Insight. You can follow him on Twitter via @CIOInsight. 


2 Comments for "The Curse of Silent Organizations"

  • Marc Herman January 03, 2014 5:30 am

    The off-shoot, or corrollary of the 'silent organization' is the 'yes organization' - it emulates the environment of collaboration, where there is a seemingly an engagement of opinions of employees. However, the only real opinions being sought are those that align with the leader's. Also, there is a fine line between constructive engagement of opinion in the act of consensus building vs. extended discussion which leads to paralysis in decision making and ultimately has exactly the same effect on employees as the 'silent organization'.

  • Vijay August 27, 2013 1:07 pm

    Damn! I think I'm the kind of people you're tainklg about. Ha!Of coz I realize people may have different opinions when their roles changed. But frankly, is it reasonable to demand people under you to think out of the box or having the scope same as you? I mean, they stand at their point, their vision is limited to what they could see, somehow it's the supervisor's job to "manage" & guiding them.Like my present job, I feel frustrated about it. I am not happy with my superior's "management" skill. When my opinion being asked, I'd choose to tell the ugly truth, regardless however naive & bad it sounds. This, of coz, is a big turning off, esp to the boss(es). However, I think it's really bs and a waste of everyone's time if everybody's just trying to appease somebody. Sadly, this is unbearable to be seen or even tolerated in offices, nowadays.

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