How to Break Down Silos: A Case Study From the New York Daily News
Perhaps a small team is hunkering down in the conference room to launch a special intrapreneurial project. Or maybe you just acquired a standalone group that will keep running its service under your umbrella.
Either way, or in any situation that creates teams-within-teams at your company, thorough integration is absolutely essential. If your everyday employees gawk at a smaller team as if it has seven heads, those working on it feel isolated and unsupported. Not only is such a situation uncomfortable culturally, but these sorts of organizational silos also serve to stifle the very innovation that new projects often represent in the first place.
Cyna Alderman, the managing director of The New York Daily News's Innovation Lab, has encountered this problem before. The Innovation Lab essentially sponsors small startups whose products or services can help further the newspaper's reporting mission.
The Innovation Lab has struggled in the past to make those startups feel like a part of the Daily News team, Alderman writes on her personal blog. She cites the experience of Visual Revenue, a startup that spent one six-month stint in the Lab:
Specifically, not enough people in the Daily News organization knew about Visual Revenue. Although Visual Revenue worked in the Daily News offices, Visual Revenue was never formally introduced to the Daily News staff. And while some individuals were very involved in working with the Visual Revenue team, there were many who had no idea who the entrepreneurs were, or what they were doing in the office.
This time around, Alderman made sure the entire Daily News team knew Datavisual was coming aboard for a stay in the Lab. To honor the startup's first day, the Innovation Lab hung welcome signs in the newsroom and encouraged employees to meet the Datavisual team.
On the very first day that Datavisual was in the newsroom, we had them demo their product to the staff, and invited anyone who was interested to attend. In this way, even people who would never get to use the technology as a part of their job could interact with the startup and participate in the development and growth of the product. Following that event, we allowed everyone to request access to the product, and conducted subsequent open trainings.
If you're launching a new product or have just brought a new team inside, you're buckling down for a much longer-term commitment than the Innovation Lab, with its six-month startup programs. As such, your job is to not just knock down those walls but to make sure they're not rebuilt. Keep the organization aware of the project's progress, and show how that progress serves the rest of the company. (Or better yet, let the smaller team be the ones to explain.)