How to overcome company silos.

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What to do if there is no or poor collaboration between teams or departments, and you cannot change organisational structures.

Even when there are cross-functional teams, if those teams are a collection of members from different functions or departments, the effects are almost always noticeable in the quality of the team’s collaboration, or a lack thereof.

The common story I get to see is that Product and IT/Technology/Engineering aren’t really working together in harmony. Both are their own organisation/department and they work alongside each other, rather than together.

A common tell-tale sign of this is when the teams have an engineering manager/lead and a product manager/lead. This can work well. Often it does not work so well … yet. 

So how do we bridge that gap?

Firstly, we can work out how much company silos are impacting collaboration. 

  • Is the team truly working as a team? If one has to think hard about it, the answer is usually no.
  • Are the team’s self-set goals (congruent with company strategy) the ones that determine what the team pursues, or are there other influences involved, such as department or certain management ones? 
  • Does the team have the ability and autonomy to continuously improve how they work together? Are they actually doing it?

Secondly, we can get clearer on where the challenge exists and where it comes.

  • Which teams does the challenge present in? What’s different about them?
  • Does the challenge present more pervasively? If so, does it show up on the senior/exec management level?
  • What are the communication and coordination lines?

Finally, here’s the one approach to overcome the challenge, without requiring org-chart changes.

  • What are larger goals that all can identify and rally behind?
  • Which parties can refresh their professional relationships and agree how they need to collaborate and show up together? E.g. product manager and engineering manager, senior/executive product and engineering management (heads, VPs, CxOs)
  • What do they need to do in order to enable alignment on the team level?

For the full narrative, check out the video, quotes, audio version, and transcript below.

How are company silos showing up in your organisation’s collaboration? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

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– “And we are live. Hello, hello and welcome to Team Genius Live, my name is Georg Fasching, I will be your host today. And I am covering today a topic that has kind of been a little bit forgotten because of everything that we’re going through right now. 

Thank you so much for tuning in, I would like to ensure that everything is working all right. I’m noticing already that I have not completed my hair routine, but here we go. So I see we’ve got a few people joining live which is fantastic, welcome, welcome. Could you please put in the comments to let me know where you’re tuning in from and whether the audio is coming through okay. And then we can get absolutely started. We’ve got quite a few things to cover today. We’ll finish in 30 minutes or less, just to give us a good overview and insight into how silos show up and what they can do about it. So if you could put in a comment where you’re joining in from, I always like to see that, that would be absolutely lovely. Now I’m going to roll the intro and then we’re going to dive straight into the topic at hand. 


Silos are the leading cause of your overwork. 

And we don’t really notice it all that much anymore, and in this particular episode of Team Genius Live, we’re going to cover where our silos show up, what the impact is of company silos and what you can do about it. Of course, this is live, so if you do have any questions, comments, experiences, please put them in the comments. I’d be very happy to pick them up. Thank you so much for tuning in. And indeed, thank you very much for watching the replay, if you are watching this later on. 

Now, over the last 20 years or so, I got to work in a number of organisations, of course all the way from small to large, and typically speaking, the larger the organisation was the more silos there were. The larger the organisation was the older it was, the larger the organisation was and the older it was, the more ingrained the company structures were. And yes of course, we can see the company silos showing up, especially on the organisational chart of the company. And it’s very clear there that we have certain departments and departments have certain functions. 


So it is quite timely that I wanted to pick up this subject today because this week on Thursday, so tomorrow, marks the 20th anniversary of the manifesto for agile software development. 

And the whole intention of that congregation of experienced software developers was to overcome two traditional silos to bring technology and business closer together, as they have done in their own ways and they have come together and formed a common understanding of how best to approach that. And yes, worldwide, there has been a lot of movement, but we still have ways and ways and ways to go. To this day, now that some organisations are becoming more product orientated, we are seeing a scenario where in the c-suite, more and more organisations are starting to appreciate that perhaps there is a reason to bring in a chief product officer, and before it actually gets to the point where it is official, there is a lot of organisational soul searching if you will that is happening, because it’s still not very well understood how it all fits together. So an organisation had, an IT organization, a commercial organisation, finance, et cetera, et cetera, all the traditional parts of the organisation, and then come along people like us, who are looking to simply organise around customer value. 


That’s the primary purpose, right? We want to serve the customer and we want to do so effectively and efficiently. 

And ideally we want to be able to enjoy doing it. So that’s what we’ve all set out to do. And yet we’re still experiencing a lot of impact of these organisational silos. And it is always the company structure that actually infringes on our enjoyment of what would be a very straightforward organisation around customer value, right? We bring all the people together in a team, who are required in order to create a product or a service together and serve a particular target audience. So even when we are looking within one team, we see a reflection of company structure. Where I saw this done well, though, was for example in work that I did at the government in the UK. There were not organisational parts so much as teams organized around citizen value creation, and the members of the product development teams belonged to a profession. So it was not necessarily a department, it was a profession. It was handled differently, the mindset was differently and yes, the head of the professions would ultimately have line management responsibility, but the whole approach to it was not based around department structure. It was very clear in the mindset already, that the teams are organising around customer value. So that was already a big step forward. 

In some cases there was still opportunity for improvement of course, although I was still very impressed with how they got there, because the most important unit of value creation was the team, and team members belonged to a profession, so everything around it was much more orientated, so in terms of professional development and such and homogenisation of standards and common ways of doing things around communities of practice. So that’s where it’s been going well. Since then, which was a number of years ago, in the large organisations that I got to support in some shape or form, there were various degrees of adoption of the product discipline, the product craft if you will. From there being no product craft at all, to starting for product representatives, senior product leadership, getting closer and closer to the management team and in very few cases ultimately ending up there. 


So we see along this spectrum, various different issues arising. 

I always refer it back to the team level because that is where we see the day-to-day impact of this “siloism”, of these company silos showing up. So inside the team, in a scenario where we have representatives from say, software engineering and representatives from other functions that might be design, or other professions, they might be design or user research. And of course, then we have product managers, product owners, and in various delivery orientated professions, scrum masters, agile coaches or whatever they may be. If in the organisation, software engineering is a separate function and all the others are separate functions, and I’m talking departments here, we still see these silos come through in multiple different ways. 


And one of them is where the engineering contributions are not neatly folding into the product delivery for the best of the customer value. 

And it requires a lot of concerted effort for the product people and leadership and engineering and, you know, delivery and process improvement and people cultivation type professionals like agile coaching, for example, to bring that about. So how do we see that? We see technology objectives not properly communicated with the technology objectives, not neatly folded into the customer value and business value, in the product backlog prioritisation some of it may be hidden some of it is not well communicated. And that is sort of the key influence there when we’re then talking to the team and the environment within the team, within which the team is expected to succeed, we have the interaction between the product development teams and other departments. 

So we have the interactions with, for example learning and development, who often assist in the rollout of new services or new feature sets because they are taking care of operational areas and/or customer services, being trained up in the new feature set on how best to serve the customer, with any issues that they might be facing. So there’s a lot of interdependency and the company silos can also very well show up in there, right? If a product stays in their lane and just assuming that product is actually within itself, working well. So you’ve got the crafts that are required within the product teams and they are all working well and that is its own department now but then you still have other departments such as customer services, learning and development where we still have company silos. So if everybody is staying in their own lane then we will still face issues. So the issues here can be that product is doing their best to deliver yet too short before something new that is significant is going live is then being an update given to other departments with the expectation for them to more or less drop things and roll these things out. 


So if any of this sounds familiar with you then it’s not necessarily because we have spoken before it’s because these are common challenges for organisations. 

So these are all quite big of an issue. And nowadays, you know, we are here in February of 2021. These are challenging times as it is, right. In many countries, the schools are closed and I’m amongst those who have young kids. And we have to do a lot of arranging around in order to cover childcare, or we need to do homeschooling. And there’s a lot going on and alongside all of that we want to do the best work that we can, right. So in such situations, I’m always curious where we can have the biggest impact in terms of making our work more straightforward and making our work more streamlined so that we can actually have better outputs. So I’m very curious how all of this is landing for you so far. If you do have any comments please put them in the comment box or any questions or experiences that you’d like to share feel free to put them in there. When it comes to the team, as well as in interdepartmental issues, they all can actually trace back to a common source of company silos and issues. I’d like to substantiate that claim with a little bit of a story. 

We’re in 2021, so in 2014, 15 or so, it was, I worked across multiple product development teams at the time helping them to get better at the work that they were doing. And the more I worked with them, the more I realised that the team is doing the best that it can but actually now we need to work on the environment and in order to do so, we need to work with leadership in order to help improve the organisational environment the structural environment, the process framework that is there. At the time, I was hesitant to work with leadership because they spoke a different language to what I was familiar with at the time. I was very well versed in the language of product development teams, not so much with leadership. And I had to change that over time because that was the only way for me to be of service to the teams is to become better at being of service to leadership. 

So here we are, 2021 and for the last few years I have specialised in working with leadership to help them actually make everything easier for themselves as well as for the product development teams. What do I mean by that? The more I got to work with management teams and leadership teams, the more I was able to observe that the day-to-day interactions that I see amongst the product development teams and out there in the organisation in the day-to-day creation of value for end users that, that was mirrored in the interactions and dynamics of the management teams. So a senior management team invited me to work with them and helped them become an even better team. And they wanted for the organisation to also increase their proficiency in product development. They wanted to reduce time to market reduce their risk exposure in terms of lead times of bringing things to market by way of improving product development practices. 

So in eight buzzwords they wanted to raise their organisational agility, enterprise agility, business agility and one of the first exercises that I always invite them to do is for every member in the management team to write down what they believe, the top three goals of the company to be. And in most cases, we’re talking the majority, not all of them. 70%, 80%, the management team members had significantly different answers. In the better cases, they had one thing that most of them had in common and the other two were very specifically goals that actually reflected their own departments. And then I asked them to share what issues they are seeing in the organisation out there in terms of collaboration across departments, team collaboration, dynamics, all those people and interactions issues, and they surfaced a number of those. 


And then I usually ask the question, okay, now how do you collaborate inside the management team? Share a little bit about that. 

So where that usually lead to is a realisation that what they want more to see in the outside the management team and the rest of the organisation is also what they needed to do more of themselves. The management team is a wonderful mirror of the entirety of the organisation. So if you’re a part of the management team or you have access to the management team I would recommend that you go with these very brief little tests and exercises and that acts as a self-assessment takes 15 to 30 minutes as a management team and you can identify what you can do. Now, it leads us to what other people can do who are not inside the management team. You know, how can the rest of us work to overcome company silos. 

The key thing is to actually start making it a point of conversation. Inside the product development teams how do departmental affiliations of team members currently impact the work that we do together as a team? How clear are we as a team? What our goals are on multiple different levels. I’ve actually created a short video training series. I’ll put a link in the description below that helps teams overcome the three most common issues that they have and several of them are tied back to organisational silos also. So clarity around goals, clarity around roles. Those are ones where departmental affiliations can come up very very easily. And then the impact on the other two key issues which are decision-making as well as conflict navigation. So all of that fits neatly together and organisational silos or company silos have a very, very clear impact here. 

So when you’re inside the team or working closely with a team, making it a point of conversation is something that is very very important and see how it impacts your day-to-day and what you need to do about it. And in some cases you can do something about that inside the team and in other cases you actually need to work with the management or leadership that is supporting the environment of the team. What the ultimate lever is that everyone can pull it inside the management team, as well as in the product development teams is to be very clear in the co-creation of overarching customer value orientated goals. The main reason why management teams are not operating as teams is because they do not have shared goals. If there are no shared goals, there is no need to collaborate. If there are no shared goals there is no opportunity for team members, management team or product team alike to learn how to better work with each other. If there are no shared goals, there is no interdependence between the different parts of the team. And nowadays in the 2020s, everything is interdependent. This is, the global society is a vastly interdependent and interconnected system and the same thing inside of each organisation. 


So the number one thing for you to do in order to start overcoming organisational silos is to be very clear and co-create shared goals. 

The co-creation is important because that ensures buy-in from everybody. So working together as a team, management team and product team alike, and of course in the product team the product owner is the ultimate holder of the vision and the roadmap but the co-creation of how to realise division is very much an important point to support the buy-in also of everybody in the product development team. In the management team, it is equally important. And now imagine how much easier everything will be when everybody can turn to any member of the management team and ask, hey what are our top three priorities as a company and they get the same response from everybody they talk to. What if the board of directors or the board of the company has a meeting with the management team or some management team representatives, and they are very clear in their recounting of the organisational goals and they are more inspiring than simply, yeah we need to increase sales by X percent. That might be useful for shareholder projections but it doesn’t really give a lot of meaning to the work that is happening. And it’s also not entirely clear how that is being undertaken, okay. 


So co-creation of shared goals is the single most potent lever that we can pull in order to overcome organisational silos. 

One more thing that I wanted to add here before we start to close down and if you do have any questions, feel free to put them in the comments, I’d be delighted to pick them up. And so one more thing that I wanted to bring up here is for those organisations where product leadership has become so recognised that you are now in a position where you’re considering adding a CPO to your management team, I would invite you to be very clear about how things are happening. Typically the chief product officer is responsible for the portfolio determination of the offering of the entire company and has direct reports that are looking after the different product areas also and the importance here is to be very clear about the roles and responsibilities and expectations between the chief product officer as well as the chief technology officer. It is by the point where you have the chief product officer role being made official in the c-suite you ought to have figured that out already. Ideally, you want to be very clear on that already. 

The way that I like to look at it and this is essentially what I get to share when I’m being approached by product leadership when this question is coming up, is that the product leadership is setting the offering direction and the technology leadership is collaborating with them in order to find technologically most fortuitous and supportive approach of being able to create, realise, and support that offering. So it needs to make it easier to create the offering. It needs to make it easier to maintain the offering. It needs to make it easier to scale the offering, right? That is the absolute wonderful contribution of technology and for those parts to become one while there is still product and technology. I think that is where the evolution is going to of those two crafts. And that is different to this traditional split between business and IT where business crafted requirements and IT realized those requirements. This is a symbiotic relationship that is coming out of there, and both of them have very, very important contributions. And once again, between those roles, the key to overcoming silos is always to co-create bridges between the silos until we can finally ask ourselves can we move away from departmental traditional organisations and truly start organising ourselves around customer value. And we have crafts that are then in the teams and collaborating in order to realize the customer value there. 

So this is where my head has gotten to. If you are watching this here it is time to start checking out some other videos here and work out what else you can take up in your organisation. For those of you on the live stream, I am very delighted that you got to join here. If you have any final questions make sure to punch them in now, if not then I would like to thank you very much for joining. If you have any queries for other issues that you would like to be covered on Team Genius Live in the future please be sure to leave a comment or connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know. 

My name is Georg Fasching, it’s been a pleasure to share my experience and my thoughts with you on how to overcome company silos. I wish you all the best for the practice with your team and a wonderful day and hope you can take some of what we’ve covered today and get to better outcomes in your organisation. 

Thank you very much for today and all the best. Thank you and goodbye.”

==end of transcript==

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From the desk of Georg Fasching, passionate purveyor of Product Flow, and seasoned executive, team, and organisational change coach.

For his high-leverage, curation of methods and instruction, visit https://get.teamgenius.eu/.

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