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How to Break Down the Barriers to Collaboration

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We are collaboration addicts.

And taking that one step further, we’ve become—over the course of our careers—collaboration evangelists.

Almost anyone in management will tell you that teams that collaborate are the most successful. And while most managers work hard to encourage an environment where teamwork is encouraged and fostered, we sometimes find ourselves in a bigger silo that makes it difficult to collaborate with groups outside our area.

A silo is essentially a barrier around work groups or business units. How many times have you been working on a project only to learn that another group is doing the same work?  

Sometimes groups function autonomously, which is ok for some situations. But silos can stifle productivity, kill morale, create frustration, and impede innovation when working across groups. 

Overlap is a common symptom of work silos and is costly to the organization. It directly affects the bottom line. Employees who discover this duplicity often disengage which adds further to the dysfunction and expense.

Needless to say, silos suck.

Silos exist for many different reasons and are one of the primary roadblocks to collaborationHere are the most common reasons silos are created.
 

  • Sometimes silos are created as a result of acquisition. When two businesses merge, there is often overlap in functions yet people continue to work in silos.  It takes time for the leadership to identify the silos and build relationships that lead to collaboration.  
  • Other times physical distance is the root cause – teams that work on separate floors or even across the country feel disjointed and not in sync.
  • Many times it is functional to the business. The work group dictates the silo. For example, IT owns the servers and Accounting owns the books. They are two functional groups with different goals and objectives.
     

The ugly truth about silos

Here’s the tough thing about silos—they are typically caused by people. 

Usually the person at the top of the silo is the reason it exists in the first place because: 
 

  • His/her personal agenda prevents the team from working with other teams, or
  • He/she is not able to effectively communicate with peers and staff;
  • He/she is unable to align the team’s goals with the organization’s goals.
     

How to break down barriers if you are stuck in a silo

So, this is a tough one, right? Because your boss, or the big boss, is often the cause. You don’t want to aggravate him or her, but you don’t particularly want to spend your days on the hamster wheel, exhausted and going nowhere because you are too timid to act.

Here are some of our suggestions for breaking down the barriers caused by silos.
 

  • Be the change you want to see. One of our finest mentors used to say, “It’s okay to be constructively discontent with the status quo.” Regardless of your position, look for opportunities to build relationships, partner with others, eliminate duplicative work and solve problems.
  • Tell the truth. Tell the honest truth about why things cannot get done quickly. State the problem clearly and with professionalism. Call a spade a spade. “We are six weeks behind because we, departments A and B, are working in silos – it affects productivity, creates unnecessary expense and undermines morale.”
  • Create opportunities to collaborate. If you have the authority, establish project teams and work groups that extend across business units. Actively create opportunities for your co-workers or staff to develop relationships that lead to cooperation and problem solving.
  • Share information. The dysfunction created by silos is often perpetuated by lack of information.  Communicate what you know and what you’re working on to other teams.  Doing so builds trust.
       

Taking these steps, where ever you are in the org chart, can turn breakdowns into breakthroughs.

Taking ownership of the situation, even if you didn’t create it, can make a difference.

Effectively collaborating with your co-workers to make things happen is incredibly rewarding – go for it!

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