4 Ways To Boost Collaboration By Breaking Down Silos Between Departments

Silos are hard to predict and identify, which makes them the number one enemy of both small and medium-sized businesses. When you’re not paying attention, these “disconnects” fester and grow. Eventually, they have devastating consequences on efficiency, productivity, innovation, and morale. In the long term, they relentlessly erode business growth.

There are many major causes of silos in an organization, but the result is always the same.  Since silos create narrow mindsets and prevent employees from connecting, over time silos will strip away the opportunity for collaboration. Without collaboration, there is no exchange of information and ideas, and a business organization starts to drown in the communication void they have created.   

To combat silos, it’s important to first appreciate the problems silos create and understand how to recognize them. You can then use these 4 proven strategies to break down silos between departments in order to boost collaboration.

Why Is Collaboration Important?

The efficiency and effectiveness of individual team members and the entire company is rooted in collaboration. This is because both groups and individuals are dependent upon each other for information, products, support or resources in order to deliver on their own work.  Collaboration opens channels of communication and ensures that it remains open, which is integral for success in any market and in any industry. It allows companies to achieve their goals faster and more easily.

When everyone is on board with available information and resources, and the best practices to utilize them, things run more smoothly and employees are less frustrated. Plus, collaboration allows everyone to acknowledge their dependence on others and appreciate it.

Collaboration also opens the door to practical problem solving and overcoming challenges. When information flows freely, and everyone is encouraged to contribute their ideas and perspectives, the possible solutions are easier to come by.

Signs Your Teams Are Working In Silos

Silos tend to creep in on any organization and take chunk by chunk out of its productivity and employee satisfaction. This is why it so critical to discover and address them as soon as possible. Here are some of the most common signs your teams are working in silos. 

  • Little to no integration or collaboration across teams in an organizational chart (known as horizontal silos)
  • Little to no integration or collaboration between front-line staff and leadership (known as vertical silos)
  • Every department uses its own software tool and tools are not integrated on a centralized platform
  • There is no easy way to see the current status of projects and priorities
  • Work is not getting done because there is confusion about who is doing what
  • Information and communication doesn’t flow freely either across the organization or up and down the organization

In this kind of environment, employees suffer, clients suffer and the business suffers. 

The Benefits Of Getting Rid Of Silos

Breaking down silos results in a variety of benefits. Knowing them will help you have a vision of the future you are building:

  • High morale
  • Heightened productivity
  • Communication flows freely 
  • Integrated software tools are regularly used for information sharing
  • Everyone in the organization has a good understanding of “the bigger picture”
  • Everyone is working together like a well-oiled machine

 

How to Break Down Silos

Here are 4 practical strategies to break down silos in any organization.  These tactical efforts can be combined with adopting cross-silo leadership behaviours in order to eliminate the silo mentality. You can then begin reaping the benefits of a collaborative work environment. 

#1 – Create Forums For Collaboration That Span the “White Space” on Your Organizational Chart

The best place to start boosting collaboration and breaking down silos is to go back to your organizational chart. Take a look at all that white space that exists between the boxes and lines on your org chart.  It is the divide between individuals and teams, as well as between leadership and employees. Bridges need to slowly be built over the white space with the goal of building a culture of collaboration.

These bridges can be formed in many ways.  The first is to establish cross-functional working groups or committees made up of members from different departments. These forums should:

  • Promote constructive dialogue and information sharing
  • Enable the organization to tackle key issues from different angles
  • Encourage collaborative problem-solving

Cross-functional groups are great for enabling employees to connect with each other and adopt collaborative, problem-solving behaviours. Consider including a range of positions (from front line to manager to leadership) in these groups to encourage collaboration up and down an org structure as much as across an org structure.

To take it one step further, find a home for these collaborative forums by designating a physical space called a “collaboration zone”.  This gives employees a recognized gathering place to connect and work together.

#2 – Adopt Project Collaboration Software

It’s not by chance that the adoption rate of project collaboration software is increasing. This type of tool is designed to remove friction from communication channels and help organizations overcome challenges related to traditional project management.

Project collaboration software will help your employees to seamlessly collaborate on any project, despite the number of tasks and their complexity. Everyone in a team will be updated about the latest developments. The team member’s responsibilities and roles are established clearly right from the start, which prevents redundant work and waste of resources.

Thanks to this type of tool, employees have real-time insights into the status of work, project timelines, and which tasks are the most important ones. It provides a one-stop forum for information sharing.  It also allows managers to view dashboards to monitor progress and see the results in real-time.

Thanks to the advanced collaboration and communication features, this software is so much more than a typical project or task management software solution. Common examples of collaboration tools include (but are not limited to) Teamwork Projects, Zoho Projects, Mavenlink, Asana, Wrike, Monday.com.  

Make sure you select the right tool for your business and implement it effectively to maximize collaboration and get the most out of your investment.  

#3 – Clarify Roles and Responsibilities

One of the biggest barriers to collaboration or information sharing is knowing who to go to for what.  If you want to break down silos, and even prevent them from occurring in the first place, you need to make a consistent effort to clarify roles and responsibilities. 

Out of the four strategies covered here, this one may be the most important action you take.  The impact of introducing collaborative forums (#1 above) or technology tools (#2 above), while tremendous, will be limited if roles and responsibilities aren’t clear.  If you find this task daunting, you can seek help by using tools designed for defining roles and responsibilities, such as a RACI matrix.

A great idea would be to pull a cross-functional group together and put them in charge of using real examples from operations to define roles and responsibilities in a RACI matrix.  The dialogue in this exercise goes a long way to clearing up confusion and the resulting product can be shared broadly across departments to everyone’s benefit.

#4 – Map a bigger-picture process

Here is a scenario of the usual situation in an organization:  A team member is focused on their task; the manager is focused on task progression, and those in executive leadership are only interested in numbers. In this case, everyone is so focused on their own piece of the puzzle, that it is easy to lose track of the bigger picture.  This situation gets even more pronounced when things become busy. 

To overcome this natural tendency, try pulling together a working group with members from across the organization to map out key processes. With crucial processes documented, it becomes clear to everyone in an organization what others do, and how their own piece contributes to the end product. This action will also shed some light on task dependencies and help employees understand which processes trigger other processes.

Documenting a process is also a great way to facilitate dialogue to define roles and responsibilities (#3 above).  With the bigger picture in front of them, employees become colleagues and partners, and will more likely reach out to one another to collaborate together.

Conclusion

Breaking down silos between departments results in improved collaboration, increased efficiency and better utilization of assets and resources. As you can see, there are several ways to promote collaboration in an organization. The 4 practical strategies described here all work together allowing you to decimate silos and unleash the full power of collaboration needed to propel your business growth.

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