To Break Down Silos, Build in Cross-Communication
Keep your team connected by implementing a system that factors in their absence. Here's how.
Since shifting to more remote work, it seems as though companies have become more and more siloed. Smaller circles and greater feelings of isolation make it easier to stay tucked safely inside your own compartment rather than attempt to contribute to a cohesive team purpose. When they’re only concerned with their silo, though, people end up focusing on their own priorities with little to no interest in others at cross-departmental meetings or events, which means the manager has to work twice as hard to engage them.
Breaking down silos is the key to remaining agile and keeping up with the pace of the changing technology and business world, but it’s also a matter of a company’s bottom line. One survey found large companies averaged a loss of $62.4 million because of poor communication to and among employees, and smaller companies risked losing an average of $420,000. But what if instead of taking steps to break existing silos, we could prevent them from ever forming?
To truly eliminate silos, design a management structure that not only enables cross-communication, but requires it.
Leaders establish the framework
If you come into an organization that has silos or you’re already in one, the best way to break them is with a vision-strategy-tactics approach that starts at the top. The job of executives is to set the vision, or where the company is going. At our company, we updated our “Coming of Age” plan with a “Now of Age” plan because we moved forward and achieved our goals, and now my job is to set, and keep resetting, that vision. My staff’s responsibility is to establish the strategy to achieve that vision, including objectives for each of their departments. The tactics are the ways the employees and their supervisors meet those objectives. If everyone does their job right, cross-communication gets built into the company by design.
More than an idea or an opinion, a vision should be market-driven. Present your vision with thorough explanations as to how it follows the direction of the market, how you intend to ride that wave and why so people can learn and respond to it better. Get people to trust your vision for the company, and they’ll have an easier time buying into the idea of preventing silos. Your vision should be consistent, but once in place, never silence someone’s opinion on how to achieve an objective to get closer to it. The strategy level allows for this kind of disagreement because everyone has already at least bought into the vision. From there, tactics should be easy, but make sure they’re measurable and definable and they have a high level of specifics, including a timeframe and action plan. The more specific each step of the process is, the less conflict — and the fewer silo issues — there will be as a result.
Staff can model behavior
Even if you’re not the boss, you can reach out from wherever you are in an organization and get buy-in that will break silos step by step. Seek out an individual in another department at an equal level and start a project to instigate cross-organizational collaboration. The easiest way to do this is to establish an alliance with someone who already agrees with you.
The greater the level of difficulty, however, the more effective the results. Challenge yourself by seeking a peer that doesn’t agree with all of your ideas, and focus on finding common ground where you can establish a small project. This kind of collaboration increases productivity, performance, engagement levels and rates of success. Others will see the two employees from different departments working together, and this behavior will become an example for others. Make an overt demonstration of the departmental agreement, at least in this one area, and collaboration will only get broader from there.
Managers manage by objectives
Whether an organization is the kind that offers bonuses or performance reviews, it needs management by objectives (MBOs). Managers should establish the proper working conditions an individual needs to achieve any given objective, which, more often than not, requires cross-departmental integration. Before employees and supervisors engage in tactics toward achieving a strategy, managers should make it clear which departments might need to collaborate on which topics. Following that vision-strategy-tactics framework prevents misalignment or conflict among MBOs, allowing for greater company success.
Setting objectives, such as productivity increases, hiring and retention targets or addressing concerns specific to your business, will align employee and business goals into a more collaborative and cohesive system. When the potential hires I interview come back as part of our team to find everyone marching in the same direction, completing objectives toward the same goals and with the same focus, they can’t believe how aligned we are with one another. Even our quality auditor once told me it was rare for her to see a company so in alignment.
To get everyone moving in the same direction, we align them behind a vision. Then we resolve conflict at the strategy level by finding common ground. By then, silos are out of the way for us to manage tactics with clear objectives and fluid communication.
Silos are really about disagreement and isolation, but a vision-strategy-tactics approach can break them down by never leaving room for silos to exist in the first place. More communication and better collaboration between departments foster greater harmony and less resistance to change, which allows for targets to be achieved more easily. Cross-communication with a clear alignment of objectives allows for the collaboration needed to do more with fewer resources, reduce waste, establish better performance, increase revenue and, at the end of the day, create and maintain a happier, closer-knit team.
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