It’s time to break down the silos and create an inclusive team. One of the biggest problems in big corporations today is the disconnect between different departments and teams.  The impact of this disconnect includes a demotivated and disengaged workforce.  By far the biggest impact, however, is the unnecessary costs as a result of this breakdown in communication.

The true cost of silos

There are many costs as a result of silos in an organization.  Some are obvious, some not so obvious.  Among these are:

  • errors introduced by different teams working on the same part. One unintentionally introduces a change that negatively impacts the other without them realising it.
  • a product going through the entire development lifecycle. Only to discover an error or misinterpretation of the intention of the requirements at the last minute, or in production, exponentially increasing the cost each day it is in development.
  • people assume another team will handle an aspect of the product. But no one does so it falls through the cracks.
  • two teams developing similar products or buying similar tools because they didn’t know another team was working on something similar, duplicating effort and inventory and cost.
  • team’s effort overlapping without handovers between them.
  • tools and software licenses were not being used as it doesn’t solve the problem within the team but it was a centralized decision.
  • reputational costs of unhappy customers searching for alternatives and telling their network of their bad experience.
  • unhappy employees not believing in their management team as a result of all the chaos resulting in the loss of trust with employees doing as little as possible and refraining from raising red flags when they are spotted.

The list goes on with a rough estimate of 80% or more of all waste in an organization being a result of some form of miscommunication.

Breaking Down The Silos

We’re all too familiar with these issues and more, and the solution always tends to be the same.  More resources or more management. Both, however, increase the issues and complexity in communication rather than resolving them.

So how do you break down the silos?

There are many ways to skin a cat, but here are 5 of the most practical and immediate value-add items I’ve come across:

1. Give everyone a voice

The most important of all, and also the hardest to achieve, is giving everyone a voice.

In Lean Manufacturing all employees working on the production line have the power to stop the entire line if they observe an error. The motivation is that it’s less costly to stop production to resolve one error than to resolve hundreds or thousands of recalls later on.  The later an error is discovered and resolved, the more negatively the production costs and customer satisfaction is impacted.

With knowledge workers, it looks a little different. It means taking each person that speaks up in a meeting or reports something serious, believing they have the best intention of the company at heart.  More importantly, it means investigating and taking corrective and preventative action as soon as possible, immediately if feasible.

A game-storming technique called Speedboat is another way to allow each team member to voice their concerns in a safe environment by collaboratively posting issues holding them back from reaching their goal.

2. Make teams smaller

The more people in a team, the more possible links connecting people. Which in turn means more possibility for introducing communication issues.  If there are 5 people in a team, the possible connections are 10. For 6 people there is a staggering 45 possible connections. This is why Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, suggests team and meeting sizes of no larger than what can be fed on two pizzas.

The larger the team the harder communication gets, and the easier it becomes for bad apples to hide, looking ‘busy’ but not adding any value to the team.  When a team is small, there is no hiding and each person needs to pull their weight or risk being called out.

Read more about why teams should be small here.

3. Diversify teams

Diversification doesn’t have anything to do with your skin colour or your heritage or your age. Diversity is about the team’s ability to think and act outside their ingrained habits.  This might be because an Asian working in a Western group brings a different perspective to the team, but it might also be because there are different skill sets within the same team.

Rather than organizing teams based on function, try creating cross-functional teams where skills from all areas within the value chain are represented in the team.

Read more about why teams should be cross-functional here.

4. Cross-train skills

Most of the costs listed above are because teams are competing with each other rather than collaborating.  They lack empathy with the other teams and often don’t worry about any impact not directly affecting them.

However, if they understood the other teams’ objectives and reasoning behind their decisions, chances are that they will have more empathy as to how their changes will impact other teams.

Get team members periodically shadow or join other teams.  Spend a day observing what the other is doing to identify possible improvement areas. Then report back to both teams.  This exercise will increase empathy and increase cross-training between different people and teams. This, in turn, decreases the dependency on a single resource to do a job.  All while improvements are being identified which might improve productivity.

5. Visualize the entire value chain

It’s hard to see the forest for the trees. When a team is so involved in the details of their specific part of the system or organization, it is easy to forget the impact of visualising in teams.

By visualizing the entire value chain in such a way that is easy to understand makes it easy to understand the impact on other teams.  It also helps manage risk and identify bottlenecks.

You are as weak as your weakest link.  You are only improving productivity if you’re improving the entire flow of the system.  Visualizing the entire value chain reminds people of the importance of the whole system.

An Inclusive Team

An inclusive team is a team that collaborates.  Also, an inclusive team that collaborates is a happy team.  A happy inclusive team is a productive team.

To create a more inclusive team, give everyone a voice, make teams small, diversify and focus on the whole system.

  • About the Author
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With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.