Break down silos at work

3 Solutions for Business Silos (And How to Implement Them)

December 30, 2019 by Milton Herman

4 min read

We’ve discussed the similarities between long-form communication and Jack Welch’s Work-Out Program when it comes to breaking down silos.

This isn’t the only suggestion or exercise used by companies to correct harmful silo mentalities. However other suggestions and exercises are usually too general or vague.

Writing, reviewing and refining documents is the missing step for practicality. Here’s how this communication and workflow method takes silo mentality corrections from general to actionable.

The Long-form Communication and Silo Mentality Connection

A silo mentality generally refers to different departments or groups failing to work together effectively. This results in rework, missed deadlines, faulty handoffs, unforced errors and a wide range of communication failures.

Here are some examples:

  • Two teams work on nearly identical projects for weeks or months without informing each other.
  • A design/graphic asset must be re-created because a legal review is done after the fact.
  • Various teams or individuals provide contradicting copy direction.
  • Two managers have entirely different processes for reviewing work and providing feedback.
  • Two new employees in different departments receive conflicting information about processes and guidelines.

silo scream

And so on.

In most silo cases, multiple departments are involved. It’s not driven but any team or person, and goes beyond trivial communication issues.

Writing, reading and refining documents as a team improves workplace confidence while addressing silo-related problems. The three components of this include document reviews, document requests and the implementation of the discussed ideas.

Document reviews clue teams into ongoing or upcoming projects. It increases the amount of time for deep focus and thinking. Heavy research and clear writing expose potential problems before any work begins.

Providing Silo Solutions

The internet is chock-full with suggestions on how to break down silos. Much of the advice is relevant and smart but lacks specific or practical details. Here’s how this style of long-form communication naturally implements these common silo-busting suggestions:

Suggestion 1: Encourage and incentivize collaboration This suggestion is general but there’s support behind it. The IKEA effect has been documented by psychologists (pre-IKEA). People who put effort into something before or as it’s being created are inherently more invested.

Creating a culture of writing, reading and refining memos means different voices and contributions are brought to the table. Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky relies on document reviews (narrative) for his company and said, “There’s a lot more democratic participation in the discussion by using the narrative.”

This input gives team members the incentive to collaborate with each other by writing and providing feedback on documents. It provides a feeling of ownership, just like when you finish building the Dagstorp from IKEA.

Suggestion 2: Cross-department Team Creation

Call it a task force, a customer experience council or a meeting of the minds. Cross-department teams have become more common at growing startups and corporations alike. These meetings or communication lines keep teams aligned without overhauling company structures.

Document reviews bring in different department representatives and provide a natural learning atmosphere. A cross-functional team or task force is designed to make collaboration easier and information sharing more effective - writing and reading documents has the same goal.

Suggestion 3: Cross-functional Education and Training

Another tool for treating a silo mentality is education and training between teams. This could take the form of a “town hall” or “all-hands” meeting, lunch-and-learns, etc. These are valid ideas but are limited by the content of the method of choice.

Education, training and consistent learning are all baked into document reviews and long-form communication. Instead of the additional burdens on management such as the need for training manuals, learning frameworks and event management - a long-from communication system enables cross-training and shared learning every day.

Addressing the problems of a silo-mentality is a complicated task without an overnight solution. But writing, reading, and refining long-form information is the most effective way to prevent issues consistently and naturally implement solutions.

Create knowledge not excuses. Expect success with Topple.

Topple provides tools that help teams create and use documents to communicate, remember, and thrive.