Being a consultant and working on strategic communications often means that I often need to work with large client teams across functions. I strongly believe that communication needs to have the perspective of more than one business unit in order for it to be well-rounded. But what I can never understand is how the responsibility to bring everyone on the same page falls on an external party – an agency, a consultant, a journalist, and so on. Teams could be off-site or distributed or have different KRAs, but should they not still be working towards shared organizational goals? Of course there are personal agendas and organizational politics to navigate. But isn’t unified vision and close collaboration really the stepping-stone for an organization’s products or services in the first place?
The problem gets much worse when the organizational culture of silos seeps into teams too. I have observed that large teams – even when they share workspaces – often have far too much inefficiency and lack of communication to be productive. Can you tell if your team is collaborative, or is it just a group of individuals working in silos? Some warning signs include:
Too many redundancies
A little redundancy built into the system is great for forward-looking contingencies. But if your organization or team has too many people working on too many of the same things, you might have a serious inefficiency problem. Redundant and duplicate work costs expensive man-hours. But what is worse is that it comes in the way of collaboration, breeds insecurities, and creates unnecessary conflicts.
The reasons of misaligned priorities could be rooted in lack of clear, organization-wide or even team-wide goals. But not being on the same page in terms of priorities is often extremely divisive. It comes from the inability to articulate or even just remember the “bigger picture”. That is hardly a great way to get things done, is it?
How can leaders and team managers break down these silos?
It is easier said than done. It needs cultural changes and work from all levels of employees. But leaders and mid- to senior-level managers have the most crucial role to play.
Start at the top
There are many ways to achieve this, including using all-hands meetings and town halls to not just gloat about achievements but also to revisit larger organizational goals over and beyond the day-to-day. If you observe your team or organization’s silos, you will see that it has much less to do with individual competition and insecurities and more to do with conflicted leadership driving differing agendas. Untrained leaders and managers don’t immediately realize how this affects the very culture and DNA of the organization. It is important that leaders and managers work closely with each other to create a unified vision that takes the bigger picture into the account. At the same time, it should also account for individual interests and KRAs. Things need to be laid out on the table and discussed in the interest of a unified vision. That is one way to get turf wars out of the way before they trickle down to individuals and teams.
Consequential collaboration between employees with diverse skill-sets and strengths is a good way to facilitate inter-team or interpersonal collaboration. That means offering large, critical projects to more than one individual or team and getting them to work towards shared project goals. But beyond that, organizations also need to encourage proactive collaboration. Is there a client who could use consultancy from another business unit in your organization? What about an ongoing project that could use the financial sense of a member of another team? Organizations should not only help employees find suitable skills outside their own cliques and teams to collaborate with, they should actively encourage and reward it as part of their employee appreciation tools.
Technology to the rescue
Sometimes, the silos could have less to do with interpersonal skills or insecurities and more to do with productivity. Collaboration can be time-consuming. It could add more steps and voices to the decision-making process. You can’t blame an over-worked workforce for shying away from collaboration, simply because they just don’t have the time!
Chat platforms are a great way to start conversations, but their role usually ends there. Knowledge share points, collaborative learning apps, and tools like Slack and Yammer help. This becomes especially important in our times when your workforce is used to interacting socially on similar platforms like WhatsApp groups and Facebook. Giving them similar experiences for workplace conversations and collaborations is not only more productive for your teams, it is also cost-efficient for the company as it reduces man-hours spent in endless meetings.
With the workforce getting increasingly intrapreneurial and distributed and flexi-time becoming the new normal, the dangers of operational and decision-making silos will only increase. It is up to organizations to prepare for change now, or have operational excellence suffer due to lack of unified vision and collaboration.