Workplace silos are a widespread problem. It's easy for groups and teams within a company to develop their own processes, cultures, and goals and rarely communicate with one another or align company-wide. In my work as a global business coach, I have observed that the problem of silos is most prevalent -- and challenging to avoid -- when working with global teams.
Take my client, Sally. She's a project leader for a global engineering company. Based at the U.S. headquarters of her company, Sally manages team members in five cities in three countries, who work on large-scale construction projects, such as highways and bridges.
Recently, Sally embarked on a high profile project that is very complex, both technically and logistically. At the start of the project, she set out a work program. But, two months in, things started falling behind. A combination of missed deadlines, communication mix-ups and lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities led to frustration and finger-pointing within the team.
Sally knew she had to change how her team worked together and align them better. She started with a simple but highly effective step: a daily 15-minute conference call with every member on the team. This concept, known in the tech world as a "daily scrum," serves the purpose of synchronizing activities and creating a plan for the next 24 hours. The daily scrum method can be helpful not only for global teams, but for any team that requires nimble actions and consistent alignment.
Sally chose the time of 7 a.m. for her team's daily scrum -- given the challenges of working with several time zones, this worked out to be the most convenient time for every team member.
Attendance was mandatory. The call was disciplined and ran like clockwork.
And it worked.
"The call allowed each team member to share their top priority for the day, check in with each other and to keep small queries from becoming big issues," Sally said. "Team members were able to reach agreement then go off and do their jobs."
Soon, the project was back on track, as were relationships within the team.
"Just as we synchronized our clocks to communicate, so we synchronized our working relationships, too," Sally said. "The result was amazing. The 15-minute alignment meeting every day made all the difference!"
A daily alignment call is just one strategy you can employ to break down silos within your global team. Here are a few more.
- Tackle issues right away. Problems should be addressed before they fester. Encourage team members to raise concerns and issues early on. Make sure the opinions of quiet team members are heard and considered.
- Build trust, transparency, and respect among your team. This should be your primary goal as a leader. Your investment of time and energy to achieve this goal will pay dividends through the performance of your team.
- Share the burden. Make sure workers in different locations are not left out of the loop due to geography or time differences. Find times that work for everyone to make sure the whole team can connect. Balance conference call schedules so one team isn't always the one making sacrifices. Alternate schedules so teams take turns calling in during off-hours.
- Encourage collaboration. Use technology wisely, such as text, video conferencing, and file sharing -- it can help build relationships and foster collaboration among your team members. Smart collaboration tools can help a global team feel closer to one another. Create structures within the business that reward cross-country collaboration -- this can serve as incentive to avoid silos developing.
Business is no longer hampered by geography. Global teams are becoming the norm in today's worldwide economy. By encouraging collaboration, creating an inclusive team environment and building a culture of transparency, the geographical differences of your team cannot only stop being an obstacle -- they can start being a strength.