Improving Collaboration

Learn About Your Colleagues and What Their Departments Really do to Eliminate Silos and Build Relationships.

I worked with a company where departments were siloed and cross-functional communication was fractured. Teams seemed to always be at odds and focused on their priorities without thinking about how their needs and requests affected other departments. This continued to lead to departments competing for resources, miscommunication, misunderstandings, lack of trust and broken down processes. It wasn’t working.

This isn’t just an annoyance to deal with at work. It’s extremely costly. As reported in Harvard Business Review in his article, How to Permanently Dissolve Cross-Departmental Rivalries, Ron Carucci cited that “One study reports that 85% of workers experience some regular form of conflict, with U.S. workers averaging 2.8 hours per week. That equates to $359 billion paid hours mired in conflict.” That is a lot of time and money wasted on conflict.

So how do you break down down silos and reduce conflict to improve the communication and processes between departments? One thing Ron Carucci, suggested is to work with teams to work through the following questions:

  • What value do we create together?
  • What capabilities do we need to deliver the value?
  • How will we resolve conflicts and make decisions while maintaining trust?
  • What do we need from each other to succeed?

As part of the Leadership Development Program I created, I added a new module which included a project entitled “What I Thought I Knew.” Each person in the program was assigned a department they didn’t work in and had to create a presentation composed of two parts:

  1. What they thought they knew about their assigned department
  2. What they learned about their assigned department

What They Thought They Knew

This was the easier part of the project. It basically entailed putting together a list of what they knew about the department. What the department did, the different roles in the department, how that department interacted with other departments, etc.

As expected, participants thought they knew a lot more about each of the departments than they truly did. Their surface knowledge did not catch all of the nuances of the interrelationships between colleagues, functions, and other departments. They did not know the value they created together because of the silos.

What They Learned

Learning about their assigned department entailed much more. Participants had to interview colleagues at all levels. They had to shadow their colleagues to learn more detailed nuances of their roles. They learned about the daily communications, emails, and requests that interrupted their colleague’s priorities, and understand how that affected their work. It was a real eye-opener.

The Presentations

The final part of the project was to present their findings to their Leadership Program cohort. They had to learn and teach each other. The results were impactful and opened up dialogues and helped to begin the breakdown of silos and misunderstandings as well.

The Outcome

Through this process, they began to understand the value they created together. They began to see the capabilities they needed to deliver the value. They opened the door to begin to resolve conflicts and make decisions while maintaining trust. And lastly, they began to learn what they needed from each other to succeed.


Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Do You Walk the Talk?

Famed Indian lawyer, politician, social activist and writer Mahatma Gandhi is attributed with the quote,

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”


This speaks to the core of who we are as leaders. Brene Brown boils this down quite simply to, “Who we are is how we lead.” Meaning, these beliefs, thoughts, words, actions, habits, and values manifest themselves in leadership…either in good ways or bad ways.

What does this look like in action in the workplace?  Consider these two types of bosses. Which do you think is more of a leader?:

Boss #1 consistently micromanages their team. Their work is never good enough, yet the feedback the team receives is not constructive…it’s just criticism. Though they may complete projects, there is always an obstacle that causes a frenzy at the last minute. The team dynamic is overly competitive, stressful, and there is a high turnover rate. Team members horde their knowledge and mistrust each other, and their boss. They don’t take accountability for their mistakes; they blame others. There is no room for development.

Boss #2 trusts their team. They provide guidance but allow their team members the space to get the job done. If a team member misses the mark on a project, it is treated as a learning opportunity. The team dynamic is congenial, rigorous, and productive. Team members share best practices, ideas, and information easily, and own their mistakes. Everyone enjoys being a part of this team. Development is an expectation.

Obviously, Boss #2 is the leader. And, we can identify some of the core beliefs of Boss #2 through their actions:

  • Trust. They demonstrate this trust by not micromanaging; allowing the team members to explore, do, and even fail in a psychologically safe environment.
  • Accountability. They hold themselves and their team accountable.
  • Respect. They give respect, and in return are respected.
  • Communication. They communicate with their team openly and honestly, including the hard things. They don’t shy away from discussions or try to hide information.
  • Empower. They empower their team to try, fail and learn.
  • Development. Their team’s learning is not just an aside. It is an expectation. They enable their team to grow as individuals and as a cohesive unit.

Brené Brown, in her book, Dare to Lead defines a leader as:

“anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.”

As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” Or, more simply put, true leaders walk the talk.



Featured Photo by Alex Lopez on Unsplash