Building communication bridges

Best of 2015, first published on September 11, 2015
I was at another meeting this week where we talked about ways to communicate across functional units within the system office. The challenge of working together across silos is critical for our success as a system. Here are some tips from last fall.

–Dee Anne Bonebright

siloI just searched for “communicating across silos” and got back about 1,800,000 results, (according to Google–I didn’t count them all). And as near as I could tell, none of them dealt with farm buildings.

Clearly, there’s a lot of agreement that this is an important leadership challenge. Author Brent Gleeson noted that, unlike what he called “trendy management terms,” people are still talking about “silos” 30 years after the topic was first discussed.

After sampling the search results, a couple of themes emerged. First, silos can be a problem for any size of organization. I read numerous examples of costly rework, loss of customer goodwill, and leadership frustration caused by lack of communication among people doing various aspects of the same work.

Second, breaking down silos is a leadership task. We are the ones who can set up the structures and model behavior that encourages collaboration across all sorts of barriers.

Third, it needs to be addressed as an ongoing strategy.  Many authors recommended setting up a cross-functional team to focus on major communication efforts and ensure everyone is kept informed. This is not a task for the professional communications unit, which can become as siloed as everyone else. Rather, it should represent a spectrum of stakeholders coming together to discuss their day-to-day challenges and work together on common issues.I was a part of a team like this about 10 years ago and it still ranks as one of my most formative leadership activities.

The Leadership Excellence blog had some good tips for building this kind of coalition. Here are some of my other favorite tips and quotes:

  1. Remember that silos can be vertical or horizontal – sometimes the biggest barriers are between upper leadership and the people doing the actual work. (Forbes/Leadership)
  2. “The goal in breaking down silos is not to destroy a department’s autonomy, but rather to eliminate the issues that caused conflicting priorities, lack of information flow, and duplication of efforts and resources.” (Kevin Wilhelm, Pearson)
  3. “What we are really talking about is creating effective ways to relate to others in different circumstances… Silos are gaps we may need to bridge with agreements for how, when, and why to communicate..” (Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations)

What strategies have you used to communicate across silos?

Dee Anne Bonebright


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