Cross-functional collaboration: how to get rid of communication silos in teamwork

Executive Summary:

Teamwork makes the dream work. Interdepartmental collaboration is a key factor in making an organization's vision a reality. But there is usually a problem where information remains isolated in departments and does not circulate for the good of the company. This phenomenon is called the silo effect. It is due to several reasons:

  1. The nature of leadership: many organizational problems take root in the leadership. This is no different. It may happen that two or more leaders could be at loggerheads and cause division among other employees. Micromanagement can also be the origin of silos in teamwork.
  2. Unclear vision: a vision not well communicated will be blurry. Departments will focus on individual priorities instead of making efforts to achieve the company's common goal.
  3. Unhealthy competition: where there is an unhealthy competitive culture, employees will less share useful information to prevent others from getting ahead of them.

But, the good news is that silos can be brought down by using cross-functional teams. Cross-functional teams, however, need a systematic approach; if not, they end up dysfunctional. Here's how to make them work:

  1. A common vision: the team should see a clear picture of where they are going. That way, they see other team members as people who will help the team get there. 
  2. Divided responsibilities: team members should be aware of their specific tasks. It will prevent them from feeling lost on the team. Also, fairness is important in giving out tasks to prevent an uneven burden ratio.
  3. Open communication: as long as company virtues are upheld, every team member is entitled to give ideas and make contributions without being shamed.
  4. Collaboration: provide the resources team members need for effective collaboration. Organize workshops and sessions for brainstorming where ideas can freely flow and innovation can begin.

Who does not want to work in an organization where there is cohesiveness and every person works as a part to make the whole body—the organization—function as it should? There is a saying that teamwork makes the dream work. This is so true. According to a recent Forbes magazine editorial, teamwork and cooperation improve job effectiveness.

Picture the whole organization as one big machine with separate working compartments for departments performing their different tasks. Each department comprises different people. For the one big machine—the organization to run smoothly, all parts must move as they should—in agreement.

As in all machines, there is a need for lubrication. This lubrication allows all parts to communicate and move as a single piece. This lubricant that allows very different departments to understand what each other says while aiming for a common goal is called cross-functional collaboration

But unfortunately, there are instances where, though each department is working independently to meet the organization's goal, they are not actively collaborating and communicating with other departments. In this situation, they will make ignorant decisions that will negatively impact the organization. In this article, you learn how to increase your organization's efficiency with cross-functional teams and how to get rid of communication silos. 

But first, what exactly is “the silo communication effect”?

The term “silo effect” comes from the agricultural setting of silos on a farm. Silos are used as storage for grains, powder, and other things with insoluble particles. 

In the case of businesses and organizations, when there is no flow of information between separate departments, there is less unanimous progress toward the organization’s common goal and more individual and departmental advancement. The silo effect happens as a result of communication gaps in the organization.  

To know how the silo mentality starts in an organization, let's first give it a definition. Silo mentality, according to Investopedia is the reluctance of different employees in different departments of the same organization to give out handy information to one another. 

How does the silo mentality start?

The silo problem, most of the time, starts with the leadership of the organization. Brent Gleeson, a contributor to Forbes magazine uses the word “trickle” to describe how it flows from the head of the organization to its other parts. This is not to say that it could not originate from other parts of the organization as well. Based on nuances, it could. But more often than not, it begins at the top.

The silo effect mentality could happen when there is division among top leaders in the organization, for example, when two top company leaders hate each other. This could create segregation and factions within the organization where both factions choose who to give their loyalty to. Leaders must know that for teams to run smoothly as parts of one body, their behavior is instrumental. 

Other ways that leadership allows silo problems is when they are micromanaging their teams, or when the big vision and goal of the organization are not effectively communicated or even communicated at all. The thing about cross-functional teams is that each one must see how they contribute to a common goal and how they intersect at specific points to make this goal possible. 

Leaders are to make them see that they are like chains bound together, making them—the organization—one whole piece. This way, they will see how certain decisions should not be taken in isolation and that information should be shared since it's a cross-functional team. 

Aside from the trickle from the leadership, when the workplace competitive culture is toxic, employees in their respective departments tend to keep information to themselves to prevent other departments from getting ahead. Good competition is, however, good for businesses. 

It allows employees to aim for excellence. Rewarding employees and departments for profound achievements is a good step. At the same time, every department, nevertheless, should be reminded of the organization’s common goal. 

So, what negative impacts can the silo effect have on a team?

As a whole, companies incur losses because of the silo culture in their organizations. Research shows that Fortune 500 companies lose over $30 billion a year from not sharing knowledge. That's a great loss, to be honest. 

However, this loss does not just happen on a day, it starts with the teams involved in making the organization's dream work. Let's look at how the silo effect takes a toll on a cross-functional team. 

It leads to ignorant decisions 

The issue with isolated decisions is that they only consider a person's or group’s point of view. They cannot see beyond the eyes of team members. 

For full decisions to be taken in organizations, they have to be informed, and they should involve the major parts of the whole that need to be present. In cross-functional teams, the silo effect prevents good, totally informed decisions from being made, and this can cost the company a lot. 

For a hypothetical example, let’s consider Apple Inc. If Apple decides to release a new product, in a workplace where the culture encourages cross-functionality, workshops, and meetings will happen at different stages to decide what is best for the product and the end users of the product. However, if only the engineers and designers meet without the user experience team, there will be a user experience gap because another important perspective was ignored.

There’ll be no cross-departmental collaboration 

Different departments in an organization have different specialists who are well-equipped to make intuitive, solitary decisions. And this is good. It should be encouraged because it gives room for creativity

However, it has its downside as well. Work gets slower because it is left to move at the pace of an individual, whereas allowing teams from different departments to come together to make the project a reality opens it to diverse ideas, and collective intelligence, driving it a lot faster than it would have moved. 

A culture of unity is not encouraged when there are no cross-departmental collaborations. Isolated departments could make each part have an inflated sense of self as a team. This is the silo effect.

The company’s vision might be out of sight 

Another thing that the silo effect causes is that the big picture that the organization has gets blurred out in the eyes of the different teams. 

They focus on individual priorities and try to outdo themselves in competition. As much as healthy competition is encouraged in the workplace, a change of priorities from the organization's primary goal is dangerous for such companies because it veers them off course. 

There'll be slow or no progress 

Last but not least. The silo effect hinders progress. You see the possibility of collective intelligence and a drive towards an aim when members of different departmental teams collaborate. However, the silo mentality prevents this from happening. 

With the presence of silos, there might be some kind of motion, but this is a solitary one that advances a particular department while the common vision for the company suffers in the back seat. Individual progress is a beautiful thing, however, corporate progress is even better. 

What methods can enhance cross-team collaboration? 

If you want more effectiveness through collaboration, cross-functional teams are the way to go. While these kinds of interdepartmental teams are the way to go when you intend to bring down the silos in your company, it is worthy of note that setting up these teams can be harder than it seems. 

It is not always simple to make different talents and specialists agree and work together smoothly. A study found that 75% of so-called cross-functional teams are in fact dysfunctional, namely because they are still not entirely freed from the silos. 

So, it is crucial that, on a larger scale, company executives destroy the silo mentality through interdepartmental collaboration using systemic methods. Let's identify some of them. 

Remind your team of the bigger picture using cross-functional digital platforms

For teams to work together, they must have a clear direction, a big picture, or a simple, clear destination. 

It is a good motivation for each member to make specific contributions according to their expertise. Ane in this century of remote work, where a lot of collaboration is done digitally, making the big vision visible is still possible.

As an example, company executives use the Klaxoon visual platform to ensure that their teams do not lose sight of the purpose for which they were created. Though individual intelligence is beautiful, how much more when there is a team of such great minds with their eyes on a common goal? 

Split the responsibilities

Can you imagine being on a team where no one is sure what their role is? 

It is like being on a bus, and no one is sure who the driver is or who the passengers are. What this will result in is that some people will end up taking on tasks that are not in their area of strength, which will slow down the process of creating. 

Another thing that could happen is that some will take on significantly fewer tasks than they are supposed to handle, while others will be burdened and overwhelmed. Company executives, when creating cross-functional collaboration teams, are to see that there is no unfair ratio of tasks

Truth be told, some team members might get more tasks depending on their talents and expertise, but fairness should be at the forefront when tasks are being assigned. It prevents resentment among team members. Also, knowing where their knowledge comes from gives them a sense of purpose and unifies them in one spirit.

Promote open communication

If you want to make cross-functional team collaboration successful, communication is crucial. Difficult conversations need to happen. This way, members can openly speak and make contributions. However, in communicating, the company’s values should be considered as well

For example, there should not be condescending and insulting talk to another member as regards their idea or contribution. Everyone should be allowed equally to lay out their thoughts as regards the product or service that is being worked on. This way, there is more room for innovation and creativity.

Also, a space for open communication is necessary. 

A good idea is to have team communication in one place. It keeps team members from becoming overwhelmed with a large amount of information distributed across many locations. There is no gain in saying that in this century of virtual work, teams need a good virtual platform for effective open communication

Allow for brainstorming and collaboration

When teams first come together, because they might be quite unfamiliar with each other and one another's methods, it could seem slow at first

But most of the time, employees are willing to collaborate and make the dream work. They only need some time and freedom to dole out ideas. That’s why brainstorming has proven to be a good way for collaborators to come up with innovative ideas. 

Organize sessions for your teams to brainstorm and get their ideas out there. You will find out that they are more willing than you think to make the organization's dream work. 

In conclusion, a big working machine works because its several parts are functioning and interacting together. Your company works best when all its departments function as one big team. However, communication silos can prevent it from running smoothly. 

To destroy the silo mentality, you must intentionally encourage a culture of communication. As a company executive, it lies with you to create a culture that encourages cross-functional collaboration. Klaxoon products provide the resources you need to make this happen.

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