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Breaking Down Silos: Four Activities to Foster a Culture of Collaboration and Innovation



I have seen first-hand the importance of breaking down silos and promoting collaboration in the workplace. In order to do so, there are four key activities that leaders can engage in to foster a culture of teamwork and innovation. These activities include developing cultural brokers, encouraging open-ended questions, actively taking other points of view, and broadening employees' vision to include more-distant networks.


In this article, I will explore each of these activities in more detail, providing examples of how to implement them in your organization.


Breaking Down Silos with Horizontal Management


In today's fast-paced business environment, collaboration among functions, offices, and organizations is crucial for innovation and growth. However, as a leader, you might find it challenging to get people working together across boundaries. Employees tend to focus on vertical relationships, and formal restructuring can be costly, confusing, and slow.


To promote horizontal teamwork, I recommend engaging in four activities that will help you break down silos and foster a culture of collaboration and innovation:

  1. The first activity is to develop cultural brokers. These are employees who excel at connecting across divides and can bridge the gap between different departments. They can understand the cultures, languages, and working styles of different groups and help them work together more effectively.

  2. The second activity is to encourage people to ask questions in an open-ended, unbiased way that genuinely explores others' thinking. By doing so, employees can seek out different perspectives, challenge their own assumptions, and better understand the needs, challenges, and opportunities of different groups.

  3. The third activity is to get people to actively take other points of view. This involves active listening, empathy, and the willingness to see things from different angles. By doing so, employees can develop a deeper understanding of the motivations, goals, and values of different groups and find ways to collaborate more effectively.

  4. The fourth and final activity is to broaden employees' vision to include more-distant networks. Encourage employees to connect with people outside their immediate circle, such as customers, suppliers, and industry experts. By doing so, they can tap into new pools of expertise, learn from different perspectives, and build more robust networks that can help them solve complex problems and seize new opportunities.

Breaking down silos and promoting horizontal teamwork is essential for organizations that want to stay competitive and innovative in today's fast-paced business environment. By developing cultural brokers, encouraging open-ended questions, actively taking other points of view, and broadening employees' vision to include more-distant networks, leaders can help employees connect with new pools of expertise and learn from and relate to people who think very differently from them.


An Application of this Shift to Horizontal Management


A few years ago, I worked with a large multinational corporation that was struggling to break down silos between its research and development (R&D) and marketing departments. The R&D team was focused on developing new products and technologies, while the marketing team was focused on understanding customer needs and preferences. The two groups had very different priorities and working styles, and communication between them was often strained.


To address this issue, we implemented a cultural broker program that identified individuals in each department who had the skills and experience to bridge the gap between them. These individuals were trained in cross-functional communication, conflict resolution, and cultural awareness, and were tasked with facilitating communication and collaboration between the two groups.


We also encouraged employees to ask open-ended questions and actively take other points of view. This involved creating opportunities for them to work together on joint projects, attend each other's meetings, and participate in cross-functional training and development programs. We also encouraged employees to connect with customers and industry experts to gain new insights and perspectives.


Over time, these activities helped to break down silos between the R&D and marketing departments and foster a culture of collaboration and innovation. Employees began to see the benefits of working together and started to develop a deeper understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities. As a result, the company was able to develop new products and services that met customer needs and preferences, and stay ahead of its competitors.


How Cultural Brokers Can Bridge the Gap Between Different Departments


Cultural brokers are essential in facilitating communication and collaboration between departments that may have different priorities, working styles, and cultures.


One example of how cultural brokers can bridge the gap is by acting as a mediator between different departments in conflict. When two departments are at odds with each other, it can be challenging to find a resolution that satisfies both parties. Cultural brokers can help by identifying common ground and finding ways to compromise that meet the needs of both departments.


Another way cultural brokers can bridge the gap is by facilitating cross-functional projects and initiatives. When departments work together on joint projects, it can help to break down silos and foster collaboration. Cultural brokers can help to identify opportunities for cross-functional collaboration and ensure that all departments are working towards a common goal.


Cultural brokers can also help to translate language and culture between different departments. For example, if one department uses technical jargon that is not familiar to another, a cultural broker can help to translate the language into terms that are more accessible. This can help to improve communication and ensure that all departments are on the same page.


Finally, cultural brokers can help to build relationships and trust between different departments. By building personal connections and understanding the needs and priorities of different groups, cultural brokers can help to foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork. This can lead to more effective communication, better decision-making, and improved performance.


In conclusion, cultural brokers are essential in bridging the gap between different departments. By acting as mediators, facilitating cross-functional projects, translating language and culture, and building relationships and trust, cultural brokers can help to break down silos and foster a culture of collaboration and innovation.


How to Encourage Employees to Ask Questions in an Open-Ended, Unbiased Way


In order to break down silos, leaders need to encourage employees to ask questions in an open-ended, unbiased way that genuinely explores others' thinking. This is a crucial activity that can help to promote a culture of curiosity and learning, where employees are encouraged to seek out different perspectives and challenge their own assumptions.


One way to encourage open-ended questions is to provide training and development opportunities that teach employees how to ask effective questions. This can include workshops, seminars, or online courses that teach employees how to ask open-ended questions that explore others' thinking. These training opportunities can help employees develop the skills they need to be effective communicators and collaborators.


Another way to encourage open-ended questions is to create a safe and supportive environment where employees feel comfortable asking questions. This can involve promoting a culture of curiosity and learning, where employees are encouraged to seek out different perspectives and challenge their own assumptions. Leaders can model this behavior by asking open-ended questions themselves and encouraging others to do the same.


Leaders can also encourage open-ended questions by providing opportunities for employees to engage in dialogue and discussion. This can include team meetings, brainstorming sessions, or cross-functional workshops. By providing a forum for open discussion and encouraging employees to ask questions, leaders can create an environment where employees feel comfortable exploring different perspectives and ideas.


Finally, leaders can encourage open-ended questions by recognizing and rewarding employees who ask thoughtful and insightful questions. This can include highlighting employees' questions during team meetings, recognizing them in company emails or newsletters, or even providing incentives for employees who consistently ask good questions.


Encouraging people to ask questions in an open-ended, unbiased way that genuinely explores others' thinking is crucial in promoting a culture of curiosity and learning. By providing training and development opportunities, creating a safe and supportive environment, providing opportunities for dialogue and discussion, and recognizing and rewarding employees who ask good questions, leaders can help to create an environment where employees feel comfortable exploring different perspectives and ideas.


How to Get People to Actively Take Other Points of View


Getting people to actively take other points of view is an essential activity that can help to promote empathy, active listening, and collaboration. Here are some examples of how to encourage employees to take other points of view:


Firstly, you can start by creating opportunities for employees to interact with people from different backgrounds and perspectives. This can include cross-functional projects, job rotations, or even team-building activities that encourage employees to get to know each other better. By doing so, employees can start to understand and appreciate the different perspectives, working styles, and priorities of their colleagues.


Secondly, you can encourage employees to actively listen to others and ask follow-up questions. This can help to demonstrate that you value the input of others and are genuinely interested in their ideas and perspectives. Encourage employees to pause and reflect on what they have heard before responding, and to ask clarifying questions to ensure they understand the other person's point of view.


Thirdly, you can encourage employees to practice empathy by putting themselves in others' shoes. This can involve imagining how they would feel in a particular situation or considering what they would do if they were in the other person's position. By doing so, employees can develop a deeper understanding of the motivations, goals, and values of different groups and find ways to collaborate more effectively.


Finally, you can recognize and reward employees who actively take other points of view. This can include highlighting employees who have demonstrated empathy, active listening, and collaboration in team meetings, or providing incentives for employees who consistently take other points of view and promote collaboration.


Getting people to actively take other points of view is essential in promoting empathy, active listening, and collaboration. By creating opportunities for employees to interact with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, encouraging active listening and empathy, and recognizing and rewarding employees who actively take other points of view, leaders can help to create an environment where employees feel comfortable exploring different perspectives and ideas.


How to Broaden Employees' Vision to Include More-Distant Networks


Broadening employees' vision to include more-distant networks is essential in promoting innovation and growth. Here are some examples of how to encourage employees to connect with people outside their immediate circle:


Firstly, you can encourage employees to attend industry conferences, trade shows, and networking events. These events provide opportunities for employees to meet people from different companies, industries, and backgrounds who can offer new perspectives and ideas. Encourage employees to actively engage with others and seek out opportunities for collaboration.


Secondly, you can encourage employees to join professional organizations and communities. These groups provide opportunities for employees to connect with like-minded individuals who share their interests and passions. Encourage employees to get involved in these groups and take on leadership roles to expand their networks and develop their skills.


Thirdly, you can encourage employees to participate in volunteer activities and community service. These activities provide opportunities for employees to connect with people outside their immediate circle and contribute to causes they care about. Encourage employees to seek out volunteer opportunities that align with their interests and values and to actively engage with others.


Finally, you can encourage employees to use social media and other online platforms to connect with people outside their immediate circle. Platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook provide opportunities for employees to connect with people from all over the world who share their interests and expertise. Encourage employees to use these platforms to share their ideas and insights and to engage with others in their field.


Broadening employees' vision to include more-distant networks is essential in promoting innovation and growth. By encouraging employees to attend industry conferences, join professional organizations and communities, participate in volunteer activities and community service, and use social media and other online platforms, leaders can help employees expand their networks and tap into new pools of expertise.


Conclusion


Breaking down silos and promoting collaboration is crucial for organizations that want to stay competitive and innovative. By engaging in the four activities outlined in this article - developing cultural brokers, encouraging open-ended questions, actively taking other points of view, and broadening employees' vision to include more-distant networks - leaders can create a culture of curiosity and learning, where employees are encouraged to seek out different perspectives and challenge their own assumptions. By doing so, organizations can tap into new pools of expertise, learn from different perspectives, and build stronger networks that can help them solve complex problems and seize new opportunities. So, let's work together and break down those silos!

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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