The dangers of working in silos are many. Find out how you can get your teams to work towards a common goal with cross-functional collaboration.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
This quote by the late American author, Helen Keller holds so much truth. Something that is, sadly, missing from most organizations today.
The reasons that led me to write about the need for fostering a collaborative workforce are many. My conversations with friends from the industry and leaders in other organizations have made me realize that today — the ‘silo mentality’ has become a rising problem in organizations across the globe. While navigating pressing challenges, leaders are also tasked with figuring out how to break down silos and get everyone to work together as a team.
Now don’t get me wrong, the hassles of working in silos have been talked about and debated upon in one too many boardroom discussions for more than 3 decades now. Even then, today we see many businesses falling victim to what we call ‘departmentalized silos’.
According to Gartner, a whopping 71% of HR leaders were more concerned about employee collaboration in 2021 than they were prior to the pandemic. This only shows that the perils of working in silos are a growing pain for organizations both big and small.
Silo is the term given to describe departments or even team members operating in isolation. It’s a default mindset where you shy away from sharing information or knowledge with other individuals that you work with. The perfect example of working in silos is the philosophy of “I’ve done my job”.
We’re all at times guilty of working in comfortable silos. Don’t just stop by sending an email, it’s time we get away from the email jail. Break down the walls, step out of your nooks and walk up to the person to collaborate and get the work done seamlessly (and in most cases, a lot faster).
This article is the first of a 2-part series where I will be sharing my thoughts on building a collaborative workforce. While this post covers how to overcome silos and the need for cross-functional collaboration, in the second part, I will be sharing the key business benefits of cultivating a collaborative workforce.
Working in silos — The dangerous phenomenon
Let’s take a minute to ponder over this — when you think about turf wars between teams, isn’t it more often than not around team members arguing about who should be responsible for certain tasks? That’s a case of silo mentality right there.
Silos can stem from people being comfortable doing things a certain way, simply because — “that’s how we do things around here”. This is a dangerous place to be in.
True, we’re all responsible for specific roles and duties. But if a task that doesn’t fit your profile comes your way, what do you do?
Passing the buck and tossing the job around an endless chain is not the way to go about it. When everyone’s more concerned about their specific duties — not taking into consideration the organizational goals and the bigger picture, it might lead up to poor customer experience and the eventual demise of a once-productive company.
Before it gets there, here are some of the signs or rather the pitfalls of a silo culture:
- Productivity takes a hit
When employees keep information to themselves, others in the team have to take the time to search and ask for it. When information is not made freely accessible, people end up slacking and it kills productivity.
- Duplication of work
You’ll notice a lot of duplication when teams work in isolation. With no communication and coordination in the picture, you’ll find employees duplicating work — wasting everybody’s time and efforts.
- Struggling to cope with change:
Collaboration and effective communication are crucial to keeping up with the dynamic and changing landscape that we work in. There will be evident resistance to change when employees are not openly communicating with one another.
- Lack of innovation:
An innovative mindset is often missing from organizations that are plagued with a silo culture. A collaborative culture where employees share ideas, learnings, and perspectives is one that can tap into sustained innovation.
- Lower employee morale:
A feeling of disconnect seeps in when teams end up working in silos. This leads to an unhappy workforce with low morale and eventually results in higher attrition rates.
Knocking on doors of collaboration
According to Salesforce, 86% of employees believe lack of collaboration and communication is the primary reason for workplace failures.
Moreover, “communication is key” — is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot but what’s interesting is not many organizations realize the importance of effective communication. If you take a look at the data, effective communication results in a 4.5 times higher talent retention rate.
Cross-team communication is crucial to break down silos and overcome the barriers that are stopping teams from collaborating.
From my experience, I would like to share a few ways in which you can break free from the shackles of silos.
- Set an example
To step into sheer collaboration, you need to have your teams consciously design workflows and set up processes to minimize silos. No doubt this is a top-down initiative. The onus is on the leadership teams to find ways to move teams from dependence to independence, both in their mindsets and actions.Leaders who are able to successfully steer their organization in this way can help their team members excel by enabling them to tap into unparalleled performance levels.
- Get your teams to work towards a common goal
Not only is it important for an organization to have a unified vision, but you need to get your teams to identify their objectives and work towards a common goal. While the objectives may differ across teams, the end goal remains the same. Ensure that your team members are collaborating and working together towards achieving that common goal.
- Encourage regular alignment meetings
This is not a call for unnecessary meetings. But in the remote setup that most organizations function in today, it is important to get on regular sync-up calls to talk about problems, address issues, and find solutions together.
Cross-functional collaboration is key to organizational success
I’d like to wrap up this article by stressing the importance of cross-functional collaboration which is, in most cases, lost in organizations that have a more traditional working structure. In such cases, the sales team will have no idea what the finance team is up to. Should they?
Absolutely. It’s paramount to get an overview of what other teams are working on. It helps employees better understand their role in the organization and be cognizant of what other people are working toward.
Breaking down silos is no easy feat but if you’re looking to truly succeed as an organization, then creating an environment where cross-team collaboration and communication are encouraged will be the game-changer.
Watch out for part two of this series, where I will talk about the value that a collaborative workforce will bring to your business.
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