Collaborate to Eliminate Organizational Silos

by Bruce Swann

posted on 09-01-2017

In my first of four articles about technology silos, inspired by work with my colleague Linda Reed, I brought up the three key building block activities you can do. Today, we’re going to talk about the first, Collaboration.

One of my favorite movies from 2016 was Hidden Figures, a beautiful film telling the story of the incredible women who were key to NASA successes in the 60s. These were African-American women working in this industry at the height of the anti-segregation tension during the Civil Rights Movement. Against all their external and internal pressures, these women nobly pushed through their challenges to achieve great success for their company, and in our country’s space race. And one of the key ways they accomplished this was by collaborating extremely well.

Collaboration is working in concert with one another to create a healthier, more efficient, more intelligent workplace that becomes vastly more successful and customer-centric.

In principle, collaborating sounds easy, but it can be quite difficult. There can, at times, be too many cooks in the kitchen that can cause all kinds of communication and time-wasting problems (leading to paralysis by analysis). The last thing you want do is collaborate for weeks and gain little-to-no momentum. This poisons the well against collaboration. But it’s not because of collaboration — it’s collaboration poorly done.

To collaborate well, you need to have agreed upon a plan with small, attainable expectations that imbues belief in your team, and encourages future collaboration.

For me and my team, we create this culture of collaboration in four key ways:
● Adopt a shared mission and goals.
● Motivate externally, and honor internal motivation.
● Coordinate regularly.
● Utilize team workout sessions.

Adopt a Shared Mission and Goals.
If you don’t clearly identify what your mission is, and what you’re shooting for, your team members will eventually be moving in slightly deviating directions. Over time, the distance between individuals increases, over and over, until you have people moving in independently subjective directions.

Having a shared mission helps you be on the same page, institutes accountability, and frees you to put the customer first as you work toward business success.

Motivate Externally, and Honor Internal Motivation.
Your people are motivated. That’s why they’re working with you. You can motivate them by helping them lean into the things they’re passionate about. Give them a voice. Allow them to help in ways appropriate to what they’ve earned. But also, hear their voice and consider their suggestions, regardless of their status. Also, when there are individual team wins, you should celebrate them together. Allow team members to share their successes and lessons they’ve learned, so your team can grow, and so you can corporately honor those people.

But besides tending to your team members’ internal motivations, you can motivate them externally. Challenge them. Stretch them. Give them goals they can obtain, and reward them for that work. Internal motivation is strong, but a mixture of internal and external motivation is unbelievably strong.

Coordinate Regularly.
It should be known that your team will regularly be updating one another with what’s going on. That includes emails/calls/texts/messages at all times, sure, but it also includes having planned meetings that your team can rely upon — weekly cross-team meetings to share results, marketing strategies, lessons learned, etc. This eliminates the need for them to worry about being out of the loop, and it works to reinforce your shared goals and mission. Your team will subconsciously trust that nothing is going to sneak up on them, and if something does, that you’ll be in their corner, and will be there for them.

In addition to holding those meetings, and encouraging increased dialogue, you can create other notable alignments, like a central calendar of campaign activities that tracks and measures results.

Coordinating also includes removing physical barriers between people — walls, geography, etc. It can even mean removing the barriers between teams — often email is run by the marketing team, mobile is run by an agency, social by another department, and so on. By physically bringing them together, you allow them to interact more frequently, and with increasing acumen.

Workout Sessions.
Your people are talented. Give them the reigns to solve problems together. If you can build their ability to help solve problems into your culture, they’ll be empowered. With our teams, we bring in people from different departments to solve complex issues.

For example, if I wanted to improve customer loyalty I would invite folks from sales, marketing, service, finance, program managers, etc. to participate in a workout session — in the style of Jack Welch, or design thinking. These sessions would last two days, and everyone would brainstorm. At the end of the two days, a consensus would be reached, decisions would be made, and then a plan would be created. The key is to focus on a critical business issue that needs to be resolved, identify stakeholders who can contribute, and find a senior executive who has sufficient clout to make real-time decisions. It is intense, but a great way to promote collaboration!

When we collaborate better, our teams operate more efficiently and we do better work, which drives productivity through the roof. What’s more, people will be happier — more empowered, and feeling safer and more cared for, which is the key component that has secretly fueled business successes all along.

In the end, your team may not send people to space, but it might feel as if you had.

This is the second of four blogs in a series about getting rid of silos the right way. Check out the next one on Goal Alignment. If you’d like a jumpstart to that, you can listen to Bruce Swann and Linda Reed’s talk from the Adobe Summit this past summer.


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