Breaking down silos - where do we start?
Breaking down silos is no easy feat, but some fascinating research from McKinsey’s most recent Five Fifty shows:
CEOs indicate two primary symptoms of silo syndrome: (1) inadequate information and (2) insufficient accountability or coordination on enterprise-wide initiatives
As many of us may have read in Gillian Tett’s excellent The Silo Effect – wherein she shares multiple tales of what she terms ‘silo syndrome’, from City Hall in New York, to UBS bank in Switzerland, and Sony in Tokyo, even the most effective and motivated leaders in the world exhibit unproductive and uncooperative behaviour when they are ‘mastered by silos’. Others, however, show how institutions and individuals can master their silos instead. Here at Just3Things, we’ve been focused on the death of the functional silo for several years, working hard to build a platform for teams of all disciplines to use to align not only daily and weekly workstreams, but truly empathise with each others’ challenges and skill sets. Some of our tools focus on really practical measures, such as incorporating company-wide goals on all team pages inside the platform; whilst others are more complex, asking users to pro-actively declare alignment of their initiatives and objectives to their business’s strategy.
Helpfully, McKinsey has broken down the four key measures that they have reported as effective in breaking down silos. We thought it might be interesting to take a look at each of these measures through the lens of our clients’ experiences, and the many conversations we’ve had around the realities of cross-functional collaboration.
1. Get informed about the business context
Employees and teams that remain overly-focused on the delivery of projects as opposed to taking the time to understand the underlying customer problem driving that piece of work are at greater risk of under-estimating new competitive threats. At J3T, we find this issue manifested in a very tangible way when we ask new users of the platform to begin to align their team objectives to the overall corporate strategy. By default, we find many users will simply leave their objectives “ungrouped”, indicating that there is, in fact, some real confusion about why even significant programmes of work are being undertaken at the team level.
2. Get transparent with your customer data
Far too often, functional silos don’t just extend to difficulties in sharing marketplace research from team to team, but also to the inability to intelligently leverage key customer contacts and data from multiple databases and sources. At J3T, we often hear that clients are most delighted by the feature we offer that automatically surfaces projects or initiatives that are similar to ones you are working on in the right hand rail of the platform itself. Why is this so impactful? Clearly, marketing and customer experts – all with the best of intents – have been duplicating customer acquisition, service and marketing efforts for years and there are far more optimal ways for us to be leveraging our valuable customer databases to ensure these inconsistencies don’t happen.
3. Rotate your talent
By now, we all know that one of the defining hallmarks of Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace is their desire for intrinsic rewards by accumulating a broad range of skills and experiences across a greater number of professional roles and industries throughout their careers. To ensure you are engaging your employees by listening to those aspirations and acting on them, managers must be aware of the future assignments and team constructs that their talent might want to be a part of (and not simply make the assumption that every employee is seeking a direct promotion in their current function!). Here at J3T, we firmly believe the first and most essential step in exposing curious employees to opportunities in new functions and departments is to build transparency into the reporting of key initiatives at all levels of the company. In our platform, every employee can view the key priorities of any team across any function and learn the names, titles and job descriptions of the key players driving those priorities forward in an effort to democratise the traditional act of “internal networking”.
4. Drive accountability across small teams
Finally, we know that once the initial steps are taken inside the enterprise to break down the traditional barriers of functional silos, often what are formed are smaller, more diverse teams of cross-functional specialists. These “squads” (as they are sometimes called) are more ideally-suited to directly addressing customer issues by focusing on outcomes over outputs, but in order to ensure they remain focused on a scope of outcomes that is manageable and actionable, they must be given more autonomy to test and deliver. Distributing accountability to networks of small teams as opposed to the top layer of a traditional hierarchy is one of the most culturally challenging – but absolutely essential! – transformations that all J3T organisations grapple with.