Break company silos with better cross-team meetings

Last updated on 
February 23, 2021

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As the world continues to adapt to remote work, we’re still learning just how crucial it is to improve team collaboration and information sharing. When we’re all working from home, it’s normal to only engage with the people in our own team, but when we don’t know what’s happening in other departments, company blindspots can easily form – and once they do, communication is immediately compromised by “the silo effect” . With its bottlenecks and inefficiencies, the silo effect stands in direct opposition to successful cross-team collaboration. So what can we do to break company silos and run better cross-team meetings?

How meetings can form and break company silos

Remote work is often seen as immune from office politics. But while it may be harder to form cliques, remote work rarely makes employees feel more unified. Remote teams often feel disconnected and disengaged from the rest of their organization, and without a robust communication structure in place, it can be scarily easy for company silos to form.

As precious sites for company exchange and collaboration, cross-team meetings are critical instruments for building bridges. They are used most effectively when teams can keep each other accountable for the actions that are blocking progress, share pertinent information in a way that is specific and useful, and ask for work from each other.

Yet cross-team meetings rarely deliver this fluid, candid exchange. If you’ve ever attended a cross-team meeting, either in-person or virtually, you might be familiar with the insidious ways company silos can materialize. There’s often a tendency for one department to bond on a common agenda and then detract from another goal or need. But because no-one wants to seem rude or obstinate, the friction isn’t expressed openly. Instead, it is veiled in vague, dismissive language like “We’ll look into this,” or “Let’s address this next time.”

This performative exchange can completely stall progress, and often is just repeated at the next meeting. This can lead to more hostility between departments, which just exacerbates the friction and lack of productivity. When company silos form, it can make it impossible for different teams and departments to work together and help one another – even though each team has its own strengths and areas of expertise they can leverage for the good of the whole company.

Four steps to improve cross-team meetings

1. Communicate honestly and hold other teams accountable

Trust and open communication form the basis of successful team collaboration. But company silos directly foster distrust between teams and employees, causing people to act in an overly cautious manner, being guarded about what they share and acting inflexibly. Honest, transparent communication is the best way to overcome this. If another team’s actions are blocking your team, communicate this and hold them accountable. This shouldn’t be confrontational or personal – it’s essential that every team can express what a lack of action will mean for them and how this will affect wider business objectives. Company silos are rarely the product of teams deliberately trying to block each other; they are often created because teams are so focused on their own projects and calendars. By speaking openly, everyone can refocus on shared goals and the positive contribution of helping each other.

2. Be clear about what you’re asking for – then, be appreciative

If you’re asking for work from another team, it’s vital to explain precisely what it is you’re looking for. According to an article in Harvard Business Review, you should “Guide their gestures…. Explain to participants on how they should contribute, whether that means to ideate, debate, decide, define, declare, or deliver resources.” When people are totally clear about what they need to do, they’re able to deliver more, and better, results. Show plenty of sincere appreciation when someone delivers a piece of work, as this goes a long way to boosting cross-team morale and protecting against company silos forming.

3. Share information intelligently and report systematically

Few things are more annoying for teams than being bombarded with unnecessary information. Sharing and accessing pertinent information between departments should be done in a way that’s actually useful to each person, and every company should have a centralized communication platform where resources, information, and team interactions can be accessed any time. Studies show that formalizing collaboration can improve productivity and satisfaction by 15%, so you may want to think about creating a workflow that promotes collaboration, if you don’t already have one. By reporting all necessary information to each other and sharing updates and progress systematically, teams will feel more jointly responsible and included in each others successes, which will also prevent company silos from forming.

4. Boost meeting momentum and engagement by building relationships

Collaboration should be a positive, dynamic experience. One of the most obvious ways to boost meeting momentum and focus is to define exactly what you want the meeting to achieve. With a clear outcome in mind, people engage more easily to meet their vested interest. To keep collaboration responsive, make sure you engage with all contributions instead of passing over or dismissing them, even if you don’t agree with them. You can boost cross-team engagement further by building a relationship of inclusivity between teams. Introducing a social element can negate the competitive spirit that’s often seen in company silos, and goes a long way in building trust and a willingness to collaborate.

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