The master key to unlock silos in your organisation

We all know that a group of high performing individuals is not enough to create a truly high performing team. Collaboration between those individuals is key.

In the same vein, a collection of high performing teams is not enough to create a high performing organisation. Collaboration between teams is key. Without effective inter-team collaboration the dreaded ‘S word’ raises its head…SILOS. HR and OD professionals want to unlock silos in their organisations because they know that doing so will unlock greater efficiencies and performance for the organisation as a whole.

The irony is that often the teams that are identified as high performing – that is, with high levels of collaboration within the team and high levels of commitment to their shared goals – are so focused on themselves that they don’t always collaborate with other teams so well.

Solving this is quite the conundrum.

So what’s the master key to doing that?

We believe the key to unlock success between teams is how we define success within the team.

A lot of teams do of course take the time to align on what success looks like; but in doing so they will almost always define success exclusively from the ‘inside-out’. This means, they will align on things like purpose (the why), objectives (the what), behaviours (the how) and outcomes, for example what they want other teams/stakeholders to do. Unfortunately, this is only half the equation.

What these teams can forget is that they don’t exist in a vacuum and that their success should also be defined from the ‘outside-in’. Teams exist to serve external stakeholders whether they are in the organisation or external to the organisation. ‘Inside-Out’ is important but it’s operational. ‘Outside-In’ is far more strategic.

The power of defining success from the outside-in (in addition to the ‘inside-out’) is that it requires collaboration to begin with. It requires teams to engage external stakeholders (other teams) to really understand their needs and how they on the outside would judge the success of their team.

When teams across an organisation engage in this practice their chances of committing the sin of acting in silos massively decreases because their efforts to succeed are aligned to others’ needs.

As an HR/Leader, how can I help teams shift their perspective?

To get an ‘Outside-In’ perspective, you need to ask questions like:

  • WHO does this team most rely on for its success? WHO judges our success? (identifying key stakeholders)
  • WHAT do they want from us? HOW will they judge our success? (outside-in objectives)
  • If we deliver on these expectations will we be in a position to get these stakeholders to do what we need them to do? If not, are we missing something?
  • What is their perception of us currently? What is our reputation?

As an example, if a team were building a team charter (aligning on team success), this ‘outside-in’ approach would mean being more human-centred, having empathy and actually going out and finding out what the other team wants and expects from them. It requires an openness, a humility and a willingness to listen.

By taking an ‘Outside-In’ perspective, teams broaden their definition of success and ensure their success simultaneously helps other teams succeed. This is not the only step towards eliminating silos in organisations, but we think it is a critical one.

Michelle Rushton is Director & Co-founder at People of Influence.

People of Influence is a behaviour change consultancy that helps their clients bridge the gap between strategy and execution, through equipping organisations to develop energising leaders, high-performing teams and cultures that thrive. We attended their business breakfast in late 2019 where they revealed their work in Behavioural Engineering: creating behaviour change at scale. They work throughout organisations but most commonly with exec teams, heads of HR, L&D and OD.

You can find out more about their work with Teams here.

HR & OD 2020 Trend report – The team at People of Influence is launching a research project into the trends and burning issues across HR & OD in 2020. If you’d like to participate or you’d like to get exclusive access to the results, please email Michelle at