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Work Management for Teams

Project Collaboration: 5 Strategic Ways to Avoid Silos

Published By Zach McDowell


The era of digital transformation is requiring organizations to move faster and adapt to changing market and customer demands more quickly. Slowing the pace, however, are organizational silos that discourage effective project collaboration and prevent a company from staying agile and responsive.

Organizational silos occur when employees or entire departments don’t want or don’t have the means to share information or knowledge with others in the same company. Perhaps leadership is more comfortable with assigning certain projects to a narrow set of subject matter experts rather than collaborating across the enterprise. Yet, this mindset can present several challenges, such as:

  • It decreases operational efficiency.
  • It stops the flow of critical information.
  • It often breeds unhealthy competition.
  • It lowers morale and can trigger employees’ dissatisfaction with their jobs.

Decreased efficiency is costly, but so is employee disengagement: According to a recent Gallup poll, 67% of employees are experiencing varying levels of disengagement, costing the U.S. economy up to $600 billion a year in lost productivity.

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So what are the best ways to break down barriers such as disengagement, miscommunication, and lack of transparency? How can teams work together better to move a product or service more quickly to market? Here are five tips for dismantling silos and building an environment that encourages effective and efficient project collaboration.

  1. Build cross-functional teams. Barreling ahead with your department strategies and goals without taking into account other departments whose buy-in is vital could slow down or even derail your project. Instead, tackle the project by assembling cross-functional teams with relevant stakeholders. A cross-functional team is made up of individuals with different skills and expertise from varying departments and levels who come together to accomplish a shared objective.

For example, consider a project to strengthen a hospital’s cybersecurity protocols. In many hospitals, these responsibilities fall to the compliance officer and IT director because they are the ones with expertise to strengthen data security, manage privacy procedures, and keep hackers at bay. But often these two work in silos, which can make their efforts disjointed and ineffective against organized, persistent cyberattacks. A cross-functional team made up of both compliance and IT experts could pool their knowledge and develop a new cybersecurity plan together much faster than going it alone.

  1. Erect better communication channels. The Slack Future of Work Study, conducted by Kelton Global of more than 1,400 knowledge workers across the U.S., found that nearly one in four workers (24%) say they are dissatisfied with communication at work, including how information is shared. Survey respondents said communication could be improved with better communication tools and more collaborative work. The data also suggests that legacy communication tools such as email are not satisfactory enough for modern communication needs—a belief shared by baby boomers and millennials alike.
  1. Consolidate tools and minimize complexity. The solution to outdated modes of communication isn’t to throw every new tool at a project that you can and hope that something sticks. When working with cross-functional teams, particularly when they’re geographically dispersed, it’s important to reduce complications wherever possible. One way to decrease the chaos and boost efficiency? Consider trading in your host of disparate tools for one collaboration software solution that’s targeted to work management and streamlined teamwork processes.
  1. Enable a more open and transparent culture. The Slack Future of Work Study found that 80% of workers want to know more about how decisions are made in their organization, and 87% want their company to be transparent. The study for Slack shows “today’s workers prefer employers who view them as trusted employers.” And for their part, smart employers “support transparency because it helps people move quickly and feel engaged; to operate in alignment, and have the autonomy to make decisions.”

When it comes to transparency of a work project, consider using a visual project management tool that allows all team members to easily see the work before, during, and after it appears in a workflow. When team members can visualize the project in stages, they will be better able to prioritize and coordinate tasks, speeding up overall productivity.

  1. Maximize interaction and collaboration. In an article for Inc., leadership consultant Brad Gleeson recommends promoting better cross-departmental interaction with practical ideas such as “reduc[ing] “unnecessary long and frequent meetings, build[ing] out accessible and small meeting rooms, implement[ing] a cross-departmental training system, and encourag[ing] constructive feedback from outside departments.”

Open-space architecture can also help foster greater feedback across departments. “The Swiss offices of Novartis AG in Basel, for example, were designed for collaboration with common workspaces, sofas, soft lighting, and cappuccino machines to encourage people to talk, share ideas, and build relationships,” writes Adrienne Fox in an article for the Society for Human Resource Management. Even something simple like giving employees laptops and installing wireless in open spaces will encourage team members to get out of their offices, interact with one another, and reduce barriers to project collaboration success.


Benefits of Breaking Down Silos

A silo-busting mindset may be difficult to institute at first, but research shows that cross-functional teams exhibiting greater transparency and using streamlined project collaboration tools can bring tangible, long-lasting benefits to their organization.

Though vertical relationships—the people you supervise and the people who supervise you—are often prioritized in an organization, the relationships most vital for creating value for customers require horizontal collaboration, according to Tiziana Casciaro , Amy C. Edmondson, and Sujin Jang in an article for the Harvard Business Review. “Employees who can reach outside their silos to find colleagues with complementary expertise learn more, sell more, and gain skills faster,” they write. Harvard’s Heidi Gardner adds that firms with more cross-boundary collaboration “earn higher margins, inspire greater client loyalty, and gain a competitive edge.”

Building a collaborative work environment not bogged down by silos of inefficiency and complacency isn’t easy, but the advantages far outweigh the challenges of the change. For more tips and tools to boost your project collaboration, check out the eBook “Get Work Done Faster: 6 Steps to Accelerate Project Planning and Delivery.”

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Written by Zach McDowell Director, Product Marketing

Zach is a senior product manager for Planview PPM Pro and Planview Projectplace. He has managed teams across three continents at Planview and largely focuses on driving innovation for mid-market project management and PPM. He led one of the largest releases in Projectplace’s 20-year history and continues to grow and support its global user base.