People in organizations like to talk about how “we’re all in this together.” But when it comes to acting like what happens in IT matters to Customer Service, for example, interdependence is like the tooth fairy. You’re ten years old and long ago figured out Dad’s slipping the dollar under the pillow. You go along with it, because it’s rewarded, and then you don’t give it a lot of thought. Likewise, you talk a good game about cross-functional communication, but you certainly don’t spend much time worrying about those other folks. After all, you’re up to your eyeballs in alligators with what you’ve been charged to do in your own department. Spending too much time worrying about other areas of the organization would be detrimental to your success.
That silo mentality only really works if you’re in business solo. For the rest of us working in organizations of any size, the reality is that we’re linked in a complex web of interconnections. If we recognize and make the most of interdependence within the organization, we will harness an untapped, potent force that produces results.
Stop slipping the dollars under the pillow. If you reward silo thinking and action, you’ll get more of it. If the only way for people to be seen as go-getters is to show independence and excellence in their functional area, you have some work to do. Help people understand that organizational success requires silo-free thinking and action. Give them a stake in it as well by aligning accountability with the interdependent reality.
Debunk the myth that cross-functional work is only good for innovation. Yes, groups of people coming together will birth great new ideas. They also are a necessary part of any organization doing its normal stuff.
Talk more, and do more too. The interdependent reality requires not only more communication, but more cross-functional, coordinated action as well. It isn’t enough that you copy the Sales department on Operations emails. Recognize the ways in which Sales and Operations impact each other, and most importantly, how they must integrate their work to benefit the total organization.
Work differently, not more. You can continue working like dogs within your silos, and you won’t solve the fundamental problems. In fact, you’ll just create more and different problems. To escape the cycle, rethink your goals and priorities. Ask: What are the things we must accomplish in order to not only meet, but exceed, the needs of our customers? What parts of the organization intersect with creating this value? This analysis will produce a set of interdependent goals that lead to sustainable success. This means you will need to stop doing some things. Ask: What am I (and my team) doing that does not contribute to this value? No matter how ingrained in the fabric of your organization, give up low value tasks so you can get the vital work done.
Spend differently, not more.Typically each department comes up with its own budget, and the battle begins. If you make the most compelling case (use the words crisis and failure a lot in your pitch), your area gets more and consequently, others get less. For long-term, sustainable success, gain a better understanding of the root causes of both your problems and your opportunities. Then assign resources to functions that drive success and people who can deliver across departmental boundaries.
Slow and steady wins the race. You cannot transform your organization overnight. Create a plan for continuous movement that includes ongoing education at all levels. Take immediate action on stuff that isn’t too difficult to accomplish. Build on that success with more complex steps that are still practical.
Your silos were built over an extended period, and dismantling them will take time. (Sorry, no tooth fairy help here.) Balance urgency with patience, recognizing that this is not the “flavor of the month” initiative, but a prerequisite for survival.
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