Why smashing cross-functional silos benefits bottom lines

An organisation has many moving parts. Alignment of each of these can only be brought about when the senior leadership is aligned

Bhavna Dalal
Published: 03, Mar 2018

Bhavna Dalal ( www.bhavnadalal.com) is the Founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners [www.talentpowerpartners.com] a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India. She is a Team Leadership Coach with ICF PCC Certification, IIM Calcutta Executive MBA, and B.E.(Electronics). Also, the author of the book Team Decision Making [https://www.amazon.in/dp/B01MXF5QEM] endorsed by former CEO's of Target, Lowes, LimitedBrands,bank of Baroda, 3M , Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, Dr. Manoj Pardasani (Associate Dean Fordham University) and many others. Bhavna has been serving on the Board of Directors of Bodhi Education Society (A not-for-profit that supports schools in rural Andhra Pradesh in India ) for the past 5 years.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Organisations these days are realising new problems with functional units working independently and without co-dependency. That it leads to isolation amongst leaders of each functional area. While this problem has long existed, the challenge is becoming more acute.

There are several reasons why it is costing companies when there is lack of cross-collaboration across functions. An organisation has many moving parts. Alignment of each of these can only be brought about when the senior leadership is aligned.

When the marketing head meets and interacts with the finance person, a lot of issues and best practices automatically surface which leads to sharing of resources, strategies and much more. This can help save the organisation a lot in the short and the long run. Finance starts to understand the reasons for spends and there is a reciprocal empathy extended. It is the leaders that will further encourage the same culture to penetrate within their teams. If the leaders don’t collaborate, why should their teams?

On the other hand, if end-to-end operations are not in coherent flow it results in sluggish interaction with customers, off budgets, delayed delivery of products and blocked communication lines, making new sales and distribution channels difficult to navigate.

Why is it so difficult to break these silos?
•    It's easy to get caught up in your own day-to-day operations so much that knowing the workings or inner bearing of other areas seems useless or a waste of time and effort.
•    There is an inherent bias within people, depending on the functional area they work in. If you look around in your organisation, engineers often look down upon the credibility of operations while Product thinks they are the most important piece of the puzzle. The supporting functions like Human Resource, Learning and Development, Safety and Security, Facilities and so on, are often considered unimportant. To feel empathy, try thinking of creating an excellent world-class software product working in office if the air conditioning is not fixed in the office even for a day.
•    Not having standardised processes across various functions is another problem. In many organisations, the ownership of processes and information is fragmented and guarded. The role definition and organisation structures become implicit bottlenecks and hindrances to cross business collaboration.
•    Even if the factors leading to silos are identified, it requires revamping the practices in an organisation significantly and being ready to suffering the backlash of the consequences, somewhat like what demonetisation did to the people that supported and implemented it.

The more these silos are broken, the more conducive the environment becomes for the employees and the companies to thrive. This especially holds true for larger well-established global firms, but applies to smaller companies too. It may be a little easier in smaller companies but not necessarily.

The custodians of culture and people responsible for the organisations design, need to ensure there is regular and deliberate communication and conversation in a safe, fun environment to encourage camaraderie and bonding.

The symptoms of poor communication between functions could be:
1.    Communication is not quick and agile
2.    The written or unwritten guidelines are not clearly understood by all
3.    Conflicts or not getting along amongst employees leads to communication breakdown
4.    Geographic distances makes communication challenging
You can start the process of improving communication today by
•    Always clarifying priorities
•    Building camaraderie amid department heads
•    Create and adopt inclusive processes among departments

When people go out of their way and attempt to work together in sharing knowledge resources or helping in any way they can, it should be called out and applauded. That is one way of reinforcing good culture practices. A truly collaborative culture can only be built if this is in place.

The leaders must open up as people first, in order to start sharing as functional heads. Almost every writing on business stresses on the importance of building informal communication, which is extremely valuable for collaboration, and can only follow after a relationship is established.

While achieving cross-functional sharing and connection is difficult, it can certainly be achieved with the correct practices in place.

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