The bigger a business gets, the smaller its employees feel — unless leaders step in to help.
According to research from Queens University, 39 percent of employees believe they don’t collaborate enough with others in their workplace. Employees who fail to communicate rarely understand the effect their work has on others, which drags down company morale. Salesforce found that 86 percent of workers and executives agree that poor collaboration leads to project failures. Unfortunately, many companies inadvertently encourage this behavior by not addressing the presence of silos, which stifles growth, limits employee effectiveness, and increases the risk of burnout.
“Burnout isn’t solely born out of exhaustion. More often than not, it occurs in individuals who are tasked with items and projects that they perceive as contributing little or no value to their teams, their departments, or the larger organization,” said Curt Cronin, former Navy SEAL and current CEO of Ridgeline Partners. “Providing context to those individuals, however, really changes the game. If someone sees his role as simply a bricklayer, for example, it’s management’s responsibility to help him visualize the bigger picture — the large and magnificent cathedral.”
When people break free from silos, they begin to understand how their work affects the whole, which in turn boosts their motivation and allows them to work smarter and with the company’s greater goals in mind. To break down employee silos, company leaders must understand how these silos form and help employees reach across barriers to become more effective teammates.
How Silos Become the Norm
Silos can form when employees (and leaders) fail to empathize with their colleagues. People become irritated with delays or interdepartmental miscommunications, for example, which causes them to limit information and insight sharing — all leading to resentment, damaged morale, and ultimately inefficient business practices. Pretty soon, departments that sit right next to each other have no idea what the other is up to on a daily or long-term basis.
While the internal impact is substantial, it becomes even more problematic when taking into account how it affects the end customer. For example, a potential customer might see an ad from marketing, place an order with sales, receive that order through fulfillment, and ask questions of customer service. If none of these departments knows what the others do, the customer will likely become frustrated by the lack of coordination — and the last thing companies want is to have a potential sale become collateral damage.
The longer silos stay in place, the harder they are to knock down. Company leaders must act quickly to prevent their departments from closing themselves off from one another.
How to Break Down Internal Silos
How can leaders eliminate silos and improve collaboration?
Agree on a common goal.
Different departments will naturally have slightly different goals. Sales departments want to boost closing rates, marketing departments want to generate leads, and customer service departments want to increase customer satisfaction. Individually, those goals are fine. When departments pursue their own agendas at the expense of everyone else, however, the company suffers.
Identify a measurable companywide objective that pertains to every department (for example, increase market share by 10 percent over two years). Bring in department heads to talk about the role each department plays in that vision, and work with them to create collaborative opportunities to help them achieve their goals.
Help marketing and sales teams design a plan to attract better leads and close them faster. Meet with customer service and fulfillment teams to find a data solution that helps them track order progress more easily. When employees share a specific objective, they’re more likely to turn toward each other to solve issues rather than away.
Solicit employee input.
Employees bristle when executives make unilateral decisions that don’t make sense in practice. Avoid falling into this trap by soliciting input from directors, managers, and ground-level employees regarding how they prefer to work with other departments.
Sticking with the increased market share example, ask employees how they would solve the inefficiencies they see in their daily duties. Many of these could be solved by immediate and miniscule policy changes. Marketing employees are tired of sending salespeople collateral to approve, with salespeople never making any changes? Eliminate the approval bottleneck, and replace it with a per-case request process.
Communicate clearly and often.
As employees work in the daily grind, they can lose sight of the bigger picture. Help them see the impact of their work by regularly communicating how each department influences the journey toward the broader goal.
For instance, when an employee goes beyond the call of duty, recognize that employee in the next company newsletter. Even better, send that person a handwritten note thanking her for her contributions. The employee will not only feel personally valued, but will also likely tell others about the note, increasing morale as employees see that leadership appreciates employees’ efforts.
Stay open to feedback.
As teams work toward a common goal and employees receive commendations, keep in mind that communication is a two-way street. An idea that sounded great at first might quickly prove ineffective.
Remember eliminating that sales approval process in the second step? If salespeople begin to complain that collateral now fails to address real client concerns, the new process might have created a bigger problem than it solved. Allow employees to air their grievances during the silo-breaking process, and be open to changing course when the situation merits.
Silos kill productivity, tank morale, and prevent companies from leveraging their best assets: talented people. Don’t let resentment and misalignment hide efficiencies and isolate teams. Break down silos and prioritize communications to keep teams moving forward together.