Today’s organizations ... have changed, to say the least.
In the past four months, we've all adapted to new workspaces, constraints, distractions and requirements. One thing that hasn't changed is the need for employees to make quick decisions when problems arise, remote or within the office. Otherwise, they risk creating a bottleneck that can slow down operations. Along with this, it’s also crucial that employees understand how to make the right decision in the moment. But, if employees lack access to crucial information, they’re not equipped to make even small decisions on behalf of their company.
Communication Silos Within Organizations
The larger businesses become, the more segmented their internal operations become. It’s a simple case of functional specialization. Functions need to be grouped and structured in particular ways for everything to work and operations to remain scalable. But, this segmenting can have a negative impact on organizational communication, especially when leadership doesn’t put the processes and technologies in place to eliminate communication silos.
“Production knows it’s behind but is too busy fighting fires to tell Sales about the delay until it’s time to handle the unhappy customer. The fact that Sales is at headquarters on the other side of the world doesn’t help matters. Meanwhile, Engineering desperately needs to communicate with a plant manager across the country, but ends up leaving voicemail after voicemail.” – Source
This example highlights just how quickly minor issues can escalate into larger problems due to organizational silos and their impact on communications. It’s clear there’s a problem, but what can we do?
Manage the Mentality
Technology solutions are one thing, but the true solve in overcoming silo mentality is to address its root cause. It usually lies within leadership and influential members of an organization. Not all silo mentality is intentional; some happens without the party even recognizing the behavior. It takes a deliberate, concerted effort to overcome the mindset and place priority on interdepartmental turf wars and conflicted direction and leadership.
If your business is struggling to communicate effectively, there’s likely a mixture of communication silos affecting your employees. Typically, though, it can be tied back to the way communication is structured departmentally, geographically and according to communication style. Here are some collaboration best practices for each of those areas.
Departmental Communication Silos
Ensuring an organization communicates effectively across departments depends on leadership setting a regular process for cross-departmental communication. It should revolve around a set type of communication (email, meeting, videoconference, etc.).
The medium of communication is not what’s important. What is important is to pick one medium and stick with it. Also, select a set time and duration, who will attend and what will be covered. Just like that, you have a two-hour long, company-wide videoconference call on the first Wednesday of every month where every department manager provides an update.
Geographical Communication Silos
The greatest geographical issue I see within organizations is having different locations with different communication platforms. If businesses want their employees to be able to communicate effectively, they need to provide the right environment. That means having the same infrastructure, hardware and features so that all employees can have the same experience.
This goes for telephones – do some locations have brand-new touchscreen phones and others have old handsets that don’t even have caller ID? And videoconferencing – do your corporate offices have top-of-the-line conference rooms while the satellite locations have everyone huddled around someone’s laptop to remote in?
These communication technology inconsistencies allow some employees to have access to certain features and capabilities and others do not. Not only does this impact their ability to communicate effectively across locations, it can breed issues like workplace dissatisfaction and jealousy.
Communication Style Silos
Taking on communication style silos within your organization, similar to the geographical silos, has a lot to do with outfitting all employees with the same communication platform. If everyone has equivalent devices with the same features and capabilities, they’re able to communicate according to their needs.
The problem occurs where businesses choose different licensing levels for different groups of employees. This enables some employees to communicate with a full suite of features, where others cannot. This creates a barrier of communication between groups of employees.
As an added downside to this approach, groups of employees with access to basic features only will undoubtedly patch together free applications to try and create a more complete solution. But the free applications and the paid features don’t integrate and the employees with the features and those without will not experience ease of communication.
The best thing organizations can do when they’re looking to decrease or eliminate communication silos is to outfit their employees with the tools, technologies and processes that enable them to collaborate effectively. All too often, I see businesses investing in a brand-new communications platform and making decisions that will allow organizational silos to continue.