Breaking down silos in your organization

Collaboration is one of those words that gets said a lot but implemented very little. When departments fail to work effectively (or even knowingly) with one another the entire company struggles.

Silos often live in larger companies or those that have grown too fast to work effectively. It’s a fairly common problem that starts as a small symptom like office politics or lack of transparency, but can fester into something much worse.

Larger companies have many more silos to break down because let’s face it, they’re a little more seasoned. And while that’s a good thing — smaller startups are much faster, in-tuned with the digital landscape and coordinated through it.

It’s like a military unit facing off against a guerrilla force. While one may have more manpower and resources — the other must act swiftly and precisely, attacking weaknesses with innovative and collaborative efforts. That’s how startups are maneuvering and thriving in today’s economy. They spot customer pain points and siloed processes holding a company back and they offer a better solution.

Breaking down silos is a process, one that you have to attack with a strategy. Just like any other transformation you may undergo with your company, this one takes an acute understanding of a few moving parts before it can be implemented.

So what are some of these internal walls? What are these phantom barriers? These dividing lines in communication or collaboration that are holding back your ability to succeed can be eliminated, but first we should identify them.

Playing the Game

Now, you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere on earth that is completely immune to this problem. But office politics that revolve around collaboration are problematic and can tank an organization.

You may have a marketing team that fails to communicate effectively with a sales department, and SEO team that doesn’t work well with the developers, or a design team that keeps project details from the UX team.

Why does this happen?

One team may feel threatened by another. One team may simply think their ideas are better. Either way, the inability to collaborate and communicate effectively between departments can cause hiccups in projects and unhappy clients. The roots of these issues can stem from one department overstating their role, misunderstanding their responsibilities, or dictating implementations of new technology solutions for the entire company, even though the tools might only be applicable to their business sector. Whatever the source, the problem remains the same.

Well, data is one tool that industry leaders are continually using to align everyone under one common goal: Moving the numbers.

It’s also increasingly important to go digital. Not only because it’s the 21st century, but because it gets everyone on the same page. This means coming up with collaborative document sharing processes. These can be:

  • Slack
  • Google Docs
  • Microsoft Suite

There are actually a ton of great office softwares out there.

When each member of each team knows their role, their responsibility, and their goals they are better able to see the big picture. They see themselves as a part of a system instead of a lone wolf. In order for them to succeed in their individual endeavor they must work with others to achieve it.

Closed off office space

There’s a reason why all these young and agile startups have such strange looking office spaces. This isn’t some trendy way to appeal to applicants but rather a reinvention of the collaborative landscape.

It’s not always enough to just think digitally when reimagining the intermingling of departments. Changing the physical layout of the office to reflect the collaboration you strive for can be beneficial.

If we’re talking about “breaking down silos” — you can think of this as breaking down the actual physical barriers that separate departments. Having your office clustered into departments or separated by floors sends an unconscious message about how things should run: separately.

No ambassadors

If you’re just getting started and want to dip your toes into dismantling the silos, you can try to implement an ambassador program.

Like we said earlier, office politics aren’t something you can totally eradicate. But just like real politics, you can set up ambassadors to keep different departments on the same page. Hold weekly meetings between ambassadors so that everyone knows where there may be hiccups, miscommunications or problems within the collaborative ecosystem.

This system is also a great way to spark innovative ideas. It filters through all of the fluff to one point of contact, allowing for the best “idea nuggets” to reach the right people at the right time.

These are just a few things that can cause silos to form within an organization. And these are just a few solutions. But to properly handle the dismantling of these silos, you have to have the right tactics in place.

1. Identify the problem

Before you even start, you should identify what exactly is causing roadblocks or miscommunications within your organization. This can be systems you have in place or simply the attitudes of your staff.

Once you have an understanding of what exactly is causing the silos, you can move toward a solution. When you do this, be as detailed and meticulous as possible. This can mean taking a look at what internal processes have caused roadblocks on your company or even the customer.

2. Be open about the issues and changes

If you’re going to make significant changes to open up a siloed environment, you need to be open and honest with your staff about all the changes this will entail. Their work life may be changing significantly and they need to be notified about it.

This also means being open about what exactly is causing disruptions. You can’t beat around the bush with this one. Challenges caused by certain departments or processes need to be brought to light in order to be dealt with.

3. Create a common goal

We’re all about a customer-centric mentality. This type of mentality takes the entire organization to make work, and the goals are clear. Everyone understands that the user is at the heart of every decision made.

Whatever your goal may be with breaking down silos, everyone should have a clear understanding of that goal and how they can achieve it in their departments and individual roles.

This is also where that transparency and openness comes in. Some roles may take on new responsibilities and others may lose some. But as long as everyone has the same goals in mind, the team effort needed to make it success becomes more clear.  

4. Change up the culture

This doesn’t have to mean that everyone sits on exercise balls or stand up desks. It simply means that if there exists a system of bureaucracy that is holding back the organization, it needs to change.

Aligning everyone around goals and initiatives can really change the culture. Creating a more open and collaborative culture is what breeds collaborative results.

Breaking down silos doesn’t happen overnight. And just like the collaborative culture you’re trying to put in place, coming up with the strategy to do so will be a test.

What we mean is that in order to create the environment you’re striving for, you’ll have to implement some of these changes in order to do so. You can’t create a silo-less culture in a siloed environment.

So get everyone together, get all the departments on board, listen to all the inputs and come up with a system that will support your goals.

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