As a corporate advisor, I see plenty of dysfunctional offices and operations. Yet what never fails to surprise me is that the same issues keep popping up all over and in many different industries, almost like an epidemic of inefficiency. Many leaders I work with often acknowledge these issues but often don't know how to fix them.
Within a company's various departments, there is one communication problem that leaders have been trying to solve for years -- work silos. Whether it is marketing, sales, HR, or another department, this issue sprouts up quickly and often times without supervisors even noticing.
How do silos hinder communication in the office? Why are they problematic for the business as a whole?
Work silos occur when employees only communicate with those in the same department. It may not necessarily be a clique mentality (although this, unfortunately, has happened from time to time and should be nipped in the bud immediately), but rather employees become so engrossed in their own work and objectives that they fail to see the big, unifying picture that is the business at large. While it may not even be a conscious decision, this lack of communication creates substantial inefficiency, delays and generally less than desired results.
When I see work silos in companies, I stress to the leader that it must be addressed before a major problem happens. Enough miscommunication can derail a major product or cause significant loss for a business. The good news is that it's all avoidable.
If your business is suffering from work silos, these methods will help reunite the business and improve communication and productivity.
1. Address the problem head-on
What better way to promote open communication than with open communication? Solve the issue that employees within departments are not stepping up and speaking with the rest of the team about work. It is important for the employees to understand what is happening and why it must be addressed. Make it clear that silo-like behavior on any level will not be accepted, whether it is intended or not. Explain that the only way the company works is through transparent, open and interconnected communications.
2. Create cross-functional teams
When a large project is at hand, build a team comprised of employees from different departments. This will ensure every section of the company is in communication with one another. It can also help if the employees in the team serve as reinforcers of open communication and encourage those in their departments to speak up. Once the project is completed, keep up the channels of communication, and as the leader, enforce it.
3. Streamline communication
Technology leaves little excuse for miscommunication these days. Startups and larger businesses alike can benefit from utilizing team management software such as Slack or Basecamp. With these types of tools, everything is documented, and another department is just a click away.
4. Set integrated goals
This concept is perfect for startups and entrepreneurs who are just getting used to managing employees. While there is no one correct formula for this, setting integrated goals will motivate employees to work with one another and open up communication for the greater good.
Many companies suffer from the effects of work silos in surprising and profound ways. One department may have already come up with a solution to a problem, and another department is still searching for the answer. Or, new procedures may have been put into place and one group of employees have been left in the dust. Silos are inefficient anyway you look at it. Leaders have a responsibility to promote transparency and make it possible for one another to communicate effectively and drive improved performance.