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Some Ideas for Breaking Down Silos In Your Organization

Team reaction
Managing Expectations
Company Culture
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Productivity
Reorganization

30 June, 2020

Jeff Foster, Head of Product Engineering, shares how he managed to break down silos in his organization by encouraging their employees to choose their own team.

Problem

Silos can be a sign of a highly-productive team, able to work with no distractions and equipped with all the skills they need to do their job. However, silos can have a downside by creating a highly specialized and fragmented working process. Over time, a lack of cross-team communication, cohesion, and overarching goals add to the development of silos. Silos hinder collaboration, often resulting in misunderstandings, conflicts and turf wars. They reduce employees into specialists, doomed to gain experience by repeating the same year multiple times.
 

Though silos harbor expertise, most companies like my own, want employees to also develop a broader range of skills and have insights into the company’s overall know-how. However, this is not merely a managerial, let alone a technical problem. Siloed teams develop over the course of the time their own micro-culture and become entrenched in their own practices and rituals.
 

Actions taken

There are many strategies that can help break down silos and enhance cross-team collaboration. To break through the silos we decided to let people choose where they wanted to work. Giving people a choice on where they work serves at least two benefits. Firstly, an employee that has chosen where to work is more motivated and engaged. Secondly, rotating staff around the organization helps break down silos between teams and seeds new practices across the organization.
 

Each year, we ask the leadership of each team to produce a charter to describe why the team exists, the problems they are solving, working practices together with the sort of things they like to do to celebrate.
 

We then hold an expo, where each team presented their team charter and engineers could walk around and engage with the leadership on that team. This enabled engineers to get a great understanding of what working on any prospective team would be like.
 

Following the expo, each engineer is asked where they want to work. Engineering management performs a constraint solving exercise, aiming to place as many people as possible into the areas they’d like to work. Each year, we’ve been able to place >80% of people in a team that was their first preference. >95% of people were in their 1st or 2nd preference. About 30% of people change teams each time we run this process. This breaks down the silos, seed best practices, and engage employees.
 

Lessons learned

  • Engineers want a challenge. Staying for too long on one team certainly advance their highly specialized knowledge and skills, but can also result in lower motivation and engagement as a result of wishing to seek novel and exciting challenges.
  • By placing 97% of people in the team that was their 1st or 2nd preference, our internal metrics for employee engagement showed a positive trend of increased engagement that resulted in an increase in general happiness. When people are happy they are more productive and involved and they are better at their job

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