Even with the best of intentions in an open plan office design, workplaces can be challenged by communication barriers that can impede their success story. What is commonly referred to in business circles as the Silo Mentality is defined by the Business Dictionary as the mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture. It all comes down to accountability and communication.
Communication in any organization is a key factor in translating the vision and mission of the company to the employees. Open plan office design optimistically took down the walls to foster better communication, but the silo mentality persisted. When exposed, people or departments will retreat. In an open office, this can be detrimental to morale and accomplishment. When a department decides that it is not their responsibility to coordinate their activities with peers or other groups it can create major issues.
The best analogy for this might just be that overbooked conference room in your office! Nobody in accounting told the creative department they had a meeting at 2:00 and the client from Omaha just walked in the front door for a creative briefing. So now everyone is scrambling around, looking very unprofessional in front of the client, and angst and frustration are all he can see. Not the unified and focused team he hired to brand his product.
Once you’ve taken the time to design a beautiful efficient office, the last thing you want is animosity. But it is often the catalyst for great change and where the real teambuilding work begins in earnest. Departmental silos are seen as a growing pain for organizations of all sizes. It remains the duty of the executive leadership and management to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mindset to break down this destructive organizational barrier.
Meshing different workstyles and personality types in an open office environment is not a new managerial challenge. It can be addressed with design by allowing ample space planning between quiet areas and spaces where lively discussions can be conducted without intrusion.
Creating a workplace that encourages productive connectivity requires purposeful interaction and some actionable goals that should be enticing to the staff. Some ways to dismantle the silos and open up the lines of communication include:
PROJECTING A UNIFIED VISION: Developing a cohesive mission and vision statement that defines the objectives, initiatives and long-term goals of the company will provide a strong foundation for communication in your office. Creating a branded environment that communicates your mission with color, messaging and graphics that speak to your team on a daily basis encourages trust and creates empowerment. Creating intention at this level of detail in your workplace design projects a sense of commitment to everyone who enters your office. It can transform the “my department” mentality into the “our organization” mentality very effectively through immersion.
CREATING ACTIONABLE GOALS: Opening the lines of communication between departments to determine the root problems creating the silo effect may take some time. Departmental barriers are complex entities. Delving into those complexities is a leadership role that requires broad thinking and a unified strategy. Encouraging collaboration and teamwork wherever possible will ultimately accomplish a resolution, but staging it for compliance must be mindful. Mixing up departments for functions and meetings could also yield some interesting solutions. Pulling together a team of people from different departments who rarely work together to solve a client problem is another strategy. Hidden strength’s and weaknesses will emerge.
MOTIVATING FOR SUCCESS: Once you have successfully identified where the issues lie and are well on your way to resolution, half the battle is won. Execution and implementation will require identifying the key components that motivate each department and providing incentives for change. If your common goal is to improve the quality of your service or product, then you have to effectively define what that would mean for each department. For example, someone in product development might receive an incentive for reducing lag time within deadlines; while customer service representatives might receive an incentive to increase customer satisfaction. Incentives will go a long way toward motivating employees and discouraging the “that’s not my job” attitude, but they must be relevant, constantly evolve, encourage teamwork, and most importantly – sustain productivity.
EXECUTING YOUR PLAN: It’s important to be able to measure these goals to define their effectiveness. Establishing time frames and benchmarks for success will help you track accountability. Delegating tasks among departments in a rotating fashion will enable cross-collaboration to naturally occur. Assigning an unfamiliar task will ultimately create some dialog, and it may even reveal some hidden talents within your organization. Applaud those moments! They go a long way toward encouraging more defining moments. Regularly scheduled meetings, perhaps over lunch or extracurricular activities that are not disruptive to workflow, will lessen the blow of accountability and solidify teamwork among staff and managers. Teams thrive on routine and constant reinforcement. Remember: teamwork is essential for the above three initiatives to work.
REAPING THE BENEFITS OF COLLABORATION: Francis Bacon once stated that “knowledge is power.” This plays a very pivotal role in modern organizations. Creating a thriving and productive team imbibes knowledge, collaboration, creativity, and confidence. Without these four basic factors, any team is destined to falter. Open plans were designed for collaboration. Finding creative ways to utilize the knowledge of your team and maximize their assets will produce a confidence in not only the corporate vision but in the team members themselves.
Surmounting barriers, mending fences and taking ownership of the outcome are significant factors to maximize the knowledge base, creative thinking, confidence and collaboration within your business. Office design plays some pivotal roles in this process. It’s an opportunity to immerse your team in the color of your mission, incorporate smaller meeting spaces that reduce unnecessary long and frequent conference room sessions, and implement cross-departmental training/education systems.
Dismantling the silos is not an easy task for any business. But creating a climate of collaboration and inclusion is well worth the effort. There is nothing more powerful than everyone pulling for the same team. The synergy created by a unified vision will elevate morale, increase productivity and take your business to a whole new level of success.
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