Transformation specialist Allan Boyle on how to avoid one of the key perils of remote working
If you want to store wheat, creating a silo is a great idea.
On the other hand, if you wish to run your business effectively and efficiently, and offer a great customer experience, you want to treat silos as your biggest nightmare.
The concept of “silo mentality” has been debated and discussed in the mainstream business world for a number of years already.
It’s generally defined as organisational silos that happen when members from different teams withhold important information and processes from other team members and departments.
There may be no malice involved, though often it is an indication of HR issues. But silos happen when teams are isolated, exclusive and remote.
One of the words to feature most prominently in 2020’s and 2021’s word cloud.
Failing to prioritise communication has a devastating effect on cohesion and unity. It’s a small leap at that point to a devastating effect on culture, productivity and a broken customer experience.
Communication prevents silos
Now, this article is not about the pros and cons of remote working (which I am largely in favour of).
And in my work as a business transformation specialist, I have seen plenty of silos spring up in workforces all sitting under the same roof too.
I have four key actions you can take to prevent silo mentality getting a foothold in your organisation which I’ll share shortly.
But before I do that, let me say one word:
One of Ireland’s great playwright’s, George Bernard Shaw, said it best in his oft repeated phrase that “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
While not as eloquent, a Trello survey showed that “86% of executives and employees blame a lack of collaboration or bad communication for team problems and failures.”
In an organisation that is growing quickly, scaling communication can be far trickier than getting the technology infrastructure and hiring processes right.
However, failing to prioritise communication has a devastating effect on cohesion and unity. It’s a small leap at that point to a devastating effect on culture, productivity and a broken customer experience.
So, here are the four actions I advise you to take before you arrive at this dismal point.
Step #1: Create and maintain organisational charts
For all the challenges startups face, silo mentality is not often one of them.
Everyone knows what everyone does, because in a small team that’s easy to keep a track of.
Start scaling, and it’s a different story.
One of the most powerful tools to communicate how your organisation runs and works towards a common vision is via an organisation chart.
Update it continuously.
Communicate how it has changed.
Share your org chart often. And this doesn’t mean send an email with your org chart .pdf attached and your job is done.
Regularly highlight how your team structure works and who is responsible for each step of delivery in town hall meetings (these are as effective online as they were in person).
Digital collaboration tools are also essential pieces of kit to incorporate into your communication practices.
Step #2: Get teams to write handover processes
Just about every team will have a process.
That’s great, and helps each team get their own work done.
However, there’s gold to be found in documenting handover processes between teams.
Because now different teams have to actually understand what their counterparts are doing in their role in the business.
What does Marketing need to know about Engineering?
What does Engineering need to know about Customer Success?
What does Sales need to know about Marketing?
And vice versa?
Handover processes will reveal all!
Step #3: Build cross-functional teams
Encouraging a cross-functionality approach among teams is one of the fastest ways to banish silo mentality.
“Shadowing” schemes work well.
For example, if your Marketing team frequently has training sessions, ask you Sales and Customer Success Teams to join at least monthly.
Step #4: Identify one big goal
Of course, each team in your organisation should have their own metrics and goals to measure.
However, as an organisation you should also have one clear goal everyone’s effort in the whole organisation is directed towards.
Being aware of a common goal and understanding how each individual team is contributing to this goal is holistic and big-picture thinking.
And that’s the opposite of silo mentality.