How do I break down silos and work collaboratively?

Silos aren’t just a business challenge, they are a hidden business risk
Maximizing collaboration isn’t solved just by introducing new tools - it requires behavior changes
Informed people are more collaborative people. Give your employees a transparent place to get information on any topic/project, ask questions that gives more context or perspective, and begin to build trust and collaboration amongst different teams. 

Inspired by Gartner’s report Changing Behaviors: From Working in Silos to Working Collaboratively

The biggest asset for any company is knowledge - whether that’s intellectual property, proprietary code or systems, or deep expertise in a specific industry. Knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge is what gives companies a competitive advantage. But here’s the trick - combining perspectives, working collaboratively across teams - that’s the true game changer for businesses.

Business benefits of collaboration are clear and well documented: generating revenue, boosting productivity, improving the allocation of resources, and reducing inefficiencies.

Collaboration isn’t as easy as putting people in rooms together, assigning them a project to work on together, or bringing in a new tool or suite of tools. It requires behavior changes.

Working collaboratively requires a commitment by individuals and groups to do work in different ways, to make decisions in a different way, and to give up specialized and single-purpose resources.

To start breaking down silos and working collaboratively, Gartner recommends using a From/To/Because model. This documents the specific behaviors you expect from teams - clear behavioral signs that the team is working collaboratively.

  • From: describe the way people behave today so that there is obvious contrast between the way that work gets done today and what you expect moving forward (“To”).
  • To: for each “From” point, describe what working collaboratively means in your organization.
  • Because: describe why the change is necessary, and not just for a single group, but for the organization overall.

For more information on From/To/Because model, read this.

When picking a project to collaborate on, you are looking for something where the outcome of the team matters and the interdependencies of currently siloed groups are obvious. Don’t make it feel like it’s a one-off collaboration. Set the expectation that collaboration is the new normal.

Collaborating with new people is intimidating for some employees. It can be as nerve-wracking as starting a new job - new faces, new personalities, and new information.

Asking them to give up control, share information or change the design of systems to make them more interoperable could be perceived as a threat to the security of their jobs. They feel job security because of their deep expertise in the silo they inhabit.

Giving people access to information and knowledge empowers them. They feel informed and prepared. Quick things you can do to get started:

  • Give them a central source to discover information and share knowledge. They can learn who the experts are in certain topics and give them an ability to share their expertise. They will learn that sharing information, as well as learning new things, doesn’t diminish their status, but elevates it, and grows their network and influence at the same time
  • Make sure cross-silo teams have time to get to know each other before doing work. A central place where people can get to know each other personally will have significant positive impacts on the speed that collaboration happens.

With Stack Overflow for Teams, the entire organization is able to contribute to knowledge sharing and collaboration from day one. That means whether an employee is looking for details on an upcoming product roadmap or who the expert is on a specific technology, she’ll be able to find the most useful information based on her coworkers’ input across any department. She’ll feel informed and have a way to share her expertise before collaboration begins. With an internal knowledge sharing and collaboration program using Stack Overflow for Teams, it eliminates silos and sets the stage for working collaboratively.

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