One of the unfortunate results of today’s business environment requiring more specialized knowledge experts is that we then find ourselves working in silos. That is, we’re too often removed from colleagues in other parts of the company.
Yet we know that both innovation and collaboration are improved when we can bring together people with different perspectives, experience and knowledge bases. For companies willing to apply some creativity to building bridges between silos, the benefits can be huge, ranging from higher employee engagement to the cost savings resulting from shared knowledge.
Here are a few best practices to consider:
1. Random Acts of Lunch: This is a fantastic way to build relationships across business units or departments or up and down the corporate hierarchy. Lunch Roulette is a new app that matches employees for lunch. The process is simple: employees enter a date they’re free for lunch and where they’d like to meet and the app then randomly matches them with another employee. Or, an employee from finance could request to be matched with someone in engineering. The CEO could ask to be paired with a frontline employee or more junior staffer. Imagine the difference in interactions between silos once people have spent some time together over sandwiches and shop talk.
2. Window on the Other World: When we see each other’s faces, we instantly develop a stronger connection, even with little to no communication. If your company is dealing with silos created by geography, or you’ve just experienced a merger or acquisition, try giving employees in each location a view of the other. Let’s say the parent company in Des Moines has just acquired a company in Silicon Valley. You could install a camera and monitor in each location, with the monitor showing real-time activity in the other location. So the folks in Silicon Valley can wave to the Des Moines folks as they walk through their lobby during the day. And vice versa.
3. The Company That Sweats Together: There’s nothing like seeing your CFO in bike shorts to level the playing field. Company wellness programs give employees a chance to bond outside their day-to-day role in the company. To increase interaction and engagement, sponsor a company team for a local 10K race, involving runners from all areas of the company. Or have an annual fitness competition, pitting departments or locations against each other.
4. Building on Shared Passions: Give employees a chance to interact on behalf of causes they believe in. By sponsoring community efforts, the company can involve employees of all stripes in collective efforts. Or put together a corporate sustainability team that includes employees from divisions or locations that would ordinarily have little to do with each other. Shared passions have the power to unite, regardless of job function.
5. Yeah, Good Idea: If your company’s reason for wanting to break down silos is primarily to promote innovation, give that innovation an established process and meeting place. Crowd innovation software like Spigit provides a methodology whereby employees can post ideas and receive feedback and votes from employees in other areas of the company. This algorithmic-focused system filters ideas on the front end and pushes winning innovations to the forefront. Other collaborative systems to consider are Jive and BrightIdea.
Give them a reason to brush shoulders, whether in person or online, and they’ll begin to build relationships. Get them to build relationships, and they’ll begin to share ideas. This is just a handful of ideas geared to providing opportunities for employees to interact outside their silos. If you have others, please share.