As every company grows, unintended “silos” will be created. This starts when an entrepreneur hires his or her first employee. Then, the “Silo Effect” gets even more intense when a growing company adds departments or additional offices. Basically, a “communication silo” is a section of a company that has become compartmentalized.
For example, an entrepreneur may hire an administrative assistant or a salesperson. Up to this point, the business owner has been involved in ALL customer communication. But the moment a new team member is hired, the owner loses some of that communication. He or she is no longer involved in every conversation. This is good because the company adds productivity. However, this growth may cause miscommunication along the way.
In a bigger company, perhaps sales and marketing are divided into two separate departments. Each of these new departments has goals that may differ and will be managed by different executives. The managers become captains of their new ships. They may even feel like they have to compete with the other “captains” for resources or personnel.
Of course, in huge multinational companies, communication silos can be a big problem. Different regions, divisions, departments, markets, and even countries and languages, create multiple silos.
So, eventually, these silos or walls may lead to mistrust or miscommunication. Companies that minimize the challenges created by these silos have an advantage. These leaders may then look for strong team-building event ideas that “will tear down the walls.”
So, in this post, we are going to cover a few ways to tear down these communication silo walls.
Why It’s Important to Break Down Communication Silos.
Before we get into a few ways to reduce the challenges created by these business silos, let’s first talk about why it is important.
Miscommunication Can Be Costly to Your Team and Your Company.
Miscommunication or “no communication” is very costly to corporations. It can cause loss of production hours and duplication of efforts.
In fact, researchers at Maryland University estimated that poor communication in American hospitals costs $12 Billion per year. That is a staggering waste of money. Think about what would happen if these hospitals could use that wasted money on their patients.
Smart corporate leaders look for ways to improve communication by seeking out new team-building events. Idea-driven events that will help their staff tear down walls that thwart communication. Introducing different teams with a common goal to work on as a whole.
Ridding corporations of organizational silos can open lines of communication and save the bottom line. When people learn how to tear down the walls, they begin to communicate better.
For example, last week, I worked with a marketing department for a big bank in Miami. The group has team members all over the world. Some of them work remotely, and some work out of regional offices for the bank. Each of these artificial divisions can create a communication silo.
So, the leaders had the entire group meet in Miami for a quarterly meeting. They spent a day covering business updates. Then, they spent the first half of the second day focusing on soft-skills training like communication and listening. Finally, they ended their meeting with a fun camaraderie-building team treasure hunt.
When You Tear Down Communication Silos, You Get Your Team Focusing on a Single Vision.
Opening lines of communication spawns creative opportunities that no one dreamed of. No one dreamed of the opportunities because the group was busy erecting walls.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” — Anthony Robbins
An organization is built into various departments with separate goals. However, so much more under a more unified vision. When everyone strives for the same goals or resolutions your team will create efficiencies. They stop fighting against each other.
In the early years of The Leaders Institute ®, we were just a group of consultants. We had a handful of high-level coaches and trainers that were all captains of our own ships, so to speak. I was in Texas. We had other folks like myself in Orlando, New York, Toronto, San Francisco, and other big cities. And we had pretty good communication.
However, the Orlando consultant often traveled to Los Angeles to work with clients. The San Francisco consultant sometimes traveled to Boston. The process was highly inefficient. The mistake we made was focusing on growing each individual consultant’s client list. At that time, we had never received more than a million dollars per year in revenue, either.
So, I had an idea. I told the entire team that if we broke that one-million-dollar barrier, I would take everyone on an all-expenses-paid cruise for their entire families. Did it work? Yup. We broke two million dollars that year and started a huge growth spurt for the company.
Interestingly, each consultant had an increase in revenue as well. Once we broke the silos and started working better as a single team on a single vision, growth increased exponentially.
When Communication Improves, New Leaders Come to the Surface.
When miscommunication occurs between silos (departments or regions,) trust levels drop too. A company leader may want to introduce problem-solving discussions to fix the challenges. However, even if the leader presents the problem in an open and judgment-free way, the group may see the suggestion as criticism. They may actually fight against whatever solution is presented.
The best way to start breaking down silos is to break down the barriers of mistrust between the siloed groups. To do this, you have to take the fear and self-conscious feelings out of the mix. Team leaders who build strong trust and rapport among siloed teams will resolve issues between the teams more efficiently. Teammates will feel more confident sharing ideas with each other than with leadership.
So, this effective way of breaking down silos improves the leadership abilities among team members. For instance, just make a couple of influential members within each silo your communication experts within each silo. Let them work with the new leaders of the other silos to bridge the gaps between departments. This creates a singular voice among groups.
Use those voices to share ideas and connect with each other. Allow them to use their communication skills and recognize their abilities with a liaison committee or position. The best “collaboration tools” are, most likely, already a part of your teams.
For fun, you can give them an official title like “Ambassador of Information Sharing” or “Liaison of Important Information.” (Or, you can make the title more tongue-in-cheek if you like.)
Closed Off, Departmentalized Environments Cause Communication Silos. (The Pandemic Exaggerated This.)
The pandemic that started in 2020 was devastating to team morale and miscommunication. Team members had a lot of fear. Everyone was unsure about what was happening and what the future would bring. What made it worse, though, was that since everyone was remote, the number of silos increased. (They increased dramatically!)
The Pandemic of 2020 Caused a Huge Number of Communication Silos to Develop.
For instance, let’s say that a company only had 20 employees in 2020. This company had an administrative team with a handful of people. It also had a sales team with about the same number of team members. The remaining employees were in service and marketing.
Prior to the pandemic, the group was already seeing miscommunication between their four silos. Marketing and sales might create a promotion that increases service calls. However, they would often forget to tell the service manager. So, even with just four silos, challenges occurred.
Then, in 2020, the company had the entire team work remotely. Now, instead of four silos, the company had 20. Over time, the company replaced some team members and add new ones. The new team may have never even met their coworkers face-to-face.
So, fear is at an all-time high. And at the same time, trust is at an all-time low. People that were hired during the pandemic have no sense of teamwork with their coworkers. They have been in their silo for a year or two.
What we all went through reminds me of the first time I went to Six Flags. They had an antique car ride. The cars all ran on a steel circular track and went about five miles per hour. Kids could even drive the cars without a whole lot of supervision.
Our entire teams have been driving the antique cars for the last couple of years. Some team members hated the whole process. “Can we please just get back to our normal cars and highways?” They would say. Others learned to drive using the antique cars. They have no concept of a highway. Still others got used to the antique cars. They are easy and safe.
How Does Team Building Fit into All of This? Can Team Building Activities Improve Communication and Break Communication Silos?
To break these silos and get your team back to a cohesive group, you want to do three things.
- First, You Have to Rebuild the Trust of Your Team (Both with Each Other and with You.)
- Second, Your Team Has to See the Value that Being a Part of that Team Provides.
- Finally, Make Your Office a Fun Place that Team Members Want to Come to.
This process has a specific order, by the way. If you just add a pool table to your office but the trust level is low, it is a waste of money. Work to develop the trust first. Then, create the collaborative environment. And only then do you focus on the fun part. (It will be even more fun when you get to it.)
I got hired to do a team-building activity in silicon valley years ago. The company was full of engineering types. When I walked in the door, the building was uncomfortably quiet. Very few calls were being made. No one was interacting with coworkers. The entire group was in their own little cacoon doing their individual job.
The manager walked me to a meeting area that had a foosball table, a dart board, and an eight-foot basketball goal. Each of these items had cobwebs on them. Apparently, someone had read an article about Google or Southwest Airlines. That person probably wanted to create a fun, collaborative environment. But they failed miserably. They started with step three and totally ignored steps one and two. (Don’t make that mistake yourself.)
First, You Have to Rebuild the Trust of Your Team (Both with Each Other and with You.)
People will support a world that they help create. During the pandemic, many leaders (myself included) fell into the trap of trying to solve each problem ourselves. Perhaps we were understaffed. Or maybe we just felt the weight of all of the changes on our shoulders. Whatever the cause, trying to solve the world’s problems all alone is a habit. (It is also a version of another silo.)
My suggestion is to spend some time individually with each of your team members. Ask each what they would do in your shoes. Ask them for ideas to build better teamwork and collaboration.
Not only will you build trust with each one, but you will also get a lot of good ideas.
We offer a half-day workshop called Creating a Team Culture. One of the first things that we do in that workshop is get the entire group to partner up with one another. We just have them practice giving ideas to each other and, at the same time, really listen to each others’ ideas. You’d be amazed at the breakthrough ideas that get shared within each group.
You can do the same with your team. However, instead of doing it just a single time in a workshop, make it a habit.
Second, Your Team Has to See the Value that Being a Part of that Team Provides.
The most common complaint that I hear from self-employed consultants is, “I miss being part of a team.” During the pandemic, sure, it was great not to have to take a shower or get dressed until noon. But, the seclusion was terrible.
As the trust level grows over time, make sure to praise the accomplishments of your team members. Share success stories with the group. In our company, when we work with a client and everything just clicks, we often write up a case study. (You can look at these past team building case studies by clicking here.) Then, at team meetings, we share these case studies with the entire group.
The consultant who created the success for the client gets accolades from the team. And the entire group gets to see solid results from the great work that we do.
You antique car new hire might be resistant to coming to the office. She was very successful over the past two years. Coming into the office is a risk. However, the moment she gets praise from a dozen coworkers for a great job, her entire attitude will change. That risk changes to opportunity.
But this attitude shift won’t happen by accident. It will take good leadership to get her to break that communication silo.
Finally, Make Your Office a Fun Place that Team Members Want to Come to.
Once the trust level is higher and people want to return to the office, now make the process fun! It doesn’t take much, by the way. For instance, you could do something as simple as start every meeting with a “Dad Joke.”
Here are a few to get you started.
- “I thought the dryer was shrinking my clothes. Turns out it was the refrigerator all along.”
- “What did the ocean say to the beach?” “Nothing, it just waved.”
- “I only know 25 letters of the alphabet. I don’t know y.”
They are corny, but they make people laugh. If your office laughs with each other, they will support each other.
Another idea is to surprise your team with lunch. A few weeks ago, I went to the local street taco restaurant and bought a couple of dozen tacos. (It cost me $30 or so.) Everyone stopped what they were doing and made their way to the conference room. (Because they didn’t want all the good ones to be gone.)We got an hour’s worth of fun team building and a full belly to boot.
On another occasion, we had our regular Friday team meeting at the local bar a couple of blocks from the office. We all had an adult beverage as we discussed sales numbers. It was different and unexpected.
These each seem like little activities. But every one of them breaks down communication silos. When people are laughing at the start of a meeting, they are more willing to communicate during the meeting. Also, someone who might have stayed in her office at lunchtime spends that time instead interacting with teammates. In a more relaxed team meeting, maybe that risky idea finally gets shared.
Formal Team Building Activities Can Reinforce Your Team Silo Destruction.
Years ago, when we created the Build-A-Bike ® team activity, the goal was to reduce silos. It is a fun metaphor for what happens when communication silos are created.
In the activity, we first divide the big group into small teams (silos.) We tell them right up front that the activity is not a competition. (However, no one believes us.) Once the silos are created, we reinforce the silo by giving a single team a head start on the team activity. This single addition solidifies the silos.
However, the activity itself requires that the small group interact with each other to get their bike parts. (They have to break the silos.) When they do, by the way, the activity gets incredibly easy. The problem-solving that originally took 20 minutes to solve is completed in seconds.
Fun team activities like this can be added to any meeting. They are incredibly effective at physically showing your team that when they work together, they accomplish more!