In the early days of a startup, most team members likely wear multiple hats and have to pitch in together on a variety of projects. But as companies grow and develop, different departments may adopt their own project management and communications systems. While it may seem like it’s a good idea for every team to find and leverage the tools and processes that work best for them, a drive for “departmental efficiency” can have the unintended effect of creating team silos.
If every team or department in an organization is working with a different set of processes, systems, and tools, they may end up engaged in redundant work, overlook important tasks, and struggle to effectively communicate updates and needs with other stakeholders. All of these misfires can eventually lead to frustration for both the staff and the customers and clients the business serves.
Fortunately, with the right strategies from leadership, it’s possible to prevent the prevalence and minimize the impact of working in silos. Below, 16 Fast Company Executive Board members share their best tips and tricks for establishing a culture that values both maximum efficiency and productive collaboration.
1. SET UP A HIGH-LEVEL FRAMEWORK AS A GUIDE.
I believe in agile, entrepreneurial teams that run fast and create immediate impact. However, this can sometimes result in silos where you are losing synergies that come from being part of a larger organization. A high-level framework acting as a guide, rather than a policy, can provide the right flexibility to apply what’s necessary for the specific situation while limiting redundant efforts. – Jana Vondran , Ingram Micro
2. START AT THE TOP.
A one-team mindset starts with the tone set by leadership. The CEO must set and communicate a clear vision, shared goals, and alignment on KPIs. Kickoff meetings for key initiatives should be cross-functional and with interdependencies and expectations well defined. Lead with empathy and celebrate the small wins! – Daria Burke, JustFab
3. HIRE FOR A ‘DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION’ ROLE.
Organizations should have a “digital transformation” role that sits between the end users of platforms, such as sales and marketing, and the IT teams. This will ensure that the business needs of the end users are considered cross-functionally while maintaining a more holistic pulse on the overall organizational tools. – Amanda Dorenberg, COMMB
4. SCHEDULE TEAM HUDDLES.
Schedule “touch-base” meetings or “huddles” to realign on a regular basis. While these could be viewed as micromanagement, reposition them as a regroup to help each other move projects forward and help everyone meet their goals. Come prepared with an agenda for yourself, but encourage the team to lead as much as possible. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency
5. ESTABLISH A SHARED PURPOSE AND STANDARDS.
Leaders can avoid siloed teams by ensuring there is regular cross-team collaboration and consistent communication at the core of the company’s culture. Cross-team “managers” should be clear on the mission and standards of the company so they can consistently reorient their individual team members’ efforts around the same shared goal. Shared purpose and standards create a fabric among teams. – Danielle Paige, Nixon Peabody
6. LINK DIFFERENT DEPARTMENTS’ TOOLS AND GOALS TO THE COMPANY’S VISION.
As much as we want to adopt the same tools across departments, there are many good reasons why departments adopt tools that work for them. Choose what works for your company’s culture and size to tie these all together. For example, in a company where OKRs are used, link the company’s vision and goals with departmental OKRs. All-hands meetings are a good place to tie these together. – Gangadhar Konduri, Medallia
7. LINK CRITICAL INTERDEPENDENCIES.
Understanding your organization’s critical interdependencies and then implementing appropriate linkage mechanisms is very effective at breaking down organizational silos. For example, a sales team needs to determine when a pricing change is needed on a certain product. Leaders can implement a linkage design to ensure sales, pricing, and marketing teams come together to coordinate when certain triggers are met. – Ken Thompson, AlignOrg Solutions
8. SET UP SOFTWARE THAT CAN PROVIDE CENTRALIZED RECORD-KEEPING.
This is an area where software can do a lot of heavy lifting. Filevine does this for law firms and other professionals. Messaging software isn’t enough; it’s too much of a flowing “river” of communications. You need a place where “conversations of record” will always be—somewhere you can count on to record and hold all that it’s necessary to know about a subject. – Ryan Anderson, Filevine
9. ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEES TO CONNECT OUTSIDE THEIR IMMEDIATE TEAM.
In my one-to-ones with people, I always ask about the conversations they are currently having with their peers. This is extremely powerful because it gets them to think about how they are connecting with others outside of their immediate team. It prompts them to go set up the meetings and have the conversations that are typically overlooked because people are moving so fast. – Greta McAnany, Blue Fever
10. FIND A SYSTEM THAT WORKS FOR EVERYONE.
Sometimes it takes a few tries before your team finds the right processes. However, as soon as you find that ideal project management system, stick with it. Invest time and resources into training everyone to use it. They’ll appreciate you doing what you can to help them be more successful, and their improved collaboration and productivity will speak for itself. – John Hall, Calendar
11. DON’T LET A HIERARCHY DEFINE YOUR PROCESSES AND SYSTEMS.
Organizations are not hierarchies; they are networks of people working toward what we hope is a shared outcome. Our ways of working—processes, systems, practices, behavioral norms—help this network function. They cannot live in a single team or department; they have to run end-to-end through the organization. – Andrew Binns, Change Logic LLC
12. STRIVE FOR SIMPLE SYSTEMS.
From my experience, the simpler the system is, the more likely it is to be mass-adopted. Even if one of your teams is already using an app, if you find it to be complicated for other teams to blend in, talk with your teams about the need for a single, simplified project app across the board. – Yoav Vilner, Walnut
13. CLARIFY AND STRESS ADHERENCE TO PROCESSES.
When I was CDO of a company with more than 120,000 employees, one of the barriers to progress was silos. When a team only focuses on what they are doing and not on how it fits into the broader organization, it leads to duplication, waste, and inefficiencies. Transparency and coordination require clear processes and strict adherence to them. Bridging silos is key to realizing the true capacity of a company. – Jessica Federer, Boston Millennia Partners
14. LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND.
As leaders, we must advocate inclusivity within our teams. Nobody should be left behind. It has to be acknowledged that not everyone has the same learning curve. If a team member is having trouble adapting to processes, then a one-on-one approach may be considered. The important thing is everybody must be part of the circle with the different processes and systems in place. – Lane Kawaoka, SimplePassiveCashflow.com
15. HAVE TEAM LEADERS MEET REGULARLY.
Our team leaders meet at least once a month to ensure that standard company policies and procedures are being adhered to across all departments. But we also use this time for all division leaders to introduce new ideas that have been working for them and to brainstorm ways we can further company goals. This assures consistency while inviting innovation. – Richard RB Botto, Stage 32
16. CENTRALIZE THE BUDGET FOR TOOLS.
Centralize the procurement and budget for all tools, systems, and processes that support your company’s growth, and establish clear metrics for the selection process. Be sure to capture the needs of all departments, request recommendations from all employees to drive greater collaboration and efficiencies across the company, and implement shared targets and profit-sharing to enhance teamwork. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5