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The average team wastes more than 20 hours per month – equivalent to six work weeks per year – due to poor collaboration and communication. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated this issue as people quickly adapted to working remotely with little time to consider how to best manage collaboration. This led to a rapid increase in the number of organizational silos, where employees within an organization become separated into individual groups.
“People get comfy in working in their own little worlds amongst larger groups,” explains Jessica Mosley, Director of Quality Assurance at Kintent. “It's a dynamic that seems to hide where silos are actually popping up.”
Jessica defines silos as people being part of a larger team but only communicating when necessary. Though work is being done, processes aren’t clear or standardized, and each team develops their own playbook that varies across the organization. For testing, these silos can slow down the entire quality process, from discovering defects to resolving them.
Silos Can Form in Organizations of Any Size
Unfortunately, silos can develop much faster than most people realize. “In the beginning stages, it can feel like some sort of burnout for most people,” says Jessica. Most people assume that they just need to work longer hours to finish their immediate projects, rather than questioning if the workflows themselves are limiting productivity.
“But this continues to carry on over time, and it starts to stem across teams,” she continues. “The first thing that usually goes when teams try to cut corners to be productive is interdepartmental communication.”
Silos don’t only happen in large organizations. As anyone who has ever worked in a startup can testify, silos can crop up in any environment. One of the first signs that silos are beginning to form is team members beginning to pull away and become less engaged with one another.
While silos are sometimes created by accident simply because team members are used to doing independent work, they often stem from a fear of added stress, judgment, or more work. “The fear of someone saying ‘you’re not doing it right’ tends to be the biggest driver in building up silos,” says Jessica.
How to Stop Silos From Forming in Your Organization
The rise of remote working has made it impossible to read peoples’ body language and facial expressions, making it necessary to “over” communicate in some cases. Jessica explains that she likes to communicate with people using lots of GIFs and emojis to help them understand her. “I want anything that I share to be thoughtful, to convey the importance of what is going on, and also leave them with a smile,” she says.
One of the most effective ways to stop silos from forming is to develop a common language with everyone in your organization. This helps to make sure that you communicate in terms that everyone can understand, and phrase things in a way that maximizes the impact of your communication. It also emphasizes collaboration and makes people feel more connected to the process – both of which are crucial to organizational success.
“If I’m speaking to a stakeholder and they’re asking what needs to be done to increase the percentage on a test coverage, things may need to be put in different standpoints to understand and convey what is wanted there,” Jessica explains. In this case, she suggests going back to the basics. “Some of the winners in universal language tend to be time, money, or return on investment (ROI).”
Collaboration is Key to Preventing Silos
Making sure departments are involved in one another’s processes helps to align an organization’s overall strategic vision, and builds consistent and constructive communication. “If you’re able to see the strategic vision of everything going on, and everybody understands how they play their part within that role, it makes it so much easier to stop any type of silo that's building up. Everyone actually has a feeling that their contribution is significant,” explains Jessica.
Finding opportunities to allow teams to learn or upskill also helps to keep away silos, as it increases employee engagement. These opportunities typically require little effort from the organization, as employees can learn on the job from other employees within their team.
Understanding other people’s communication styles can help people to manage expectations, and ultimately increase their chances of success. Jessica says that team members should not be afraid to set the collaborative tone themselves. “One of the ways you can do this is by telling others how you want to communicate.”
Celebrating the Wins
One of the most effective ways to break down silos and build a quality mindset within an organization is to celebrate the wins and acknowledge each other’s roles in the success of a project – whether big or small. Once a project is over, organizations should encourage feedback from team members. This empowers people and also contributes to streamlining and improving processes.
Jessica got feedback from team members by creating ‘quality week’ – a five-day period in which each department would talk about the misconceptions that people had about the job they were doing, and exchange ideas about how they would like the process to change in the future.
“We were able to be very empathetic and show how we were able to walk in each other's shoes,” she says. “After quality week, we went back to everything, and I saw how much the culture had grown over that time because everyone was able to see how much they fit in, and how their role was pivotal.”
No matter how much effort you put into preventing them, silos are inevitable. The key is recognizing when they crop up and putting methods in place to stop them in good time. “Even when you knock them down, they will have a method of creeping back in. Your best bet is to recognize when they are beginning to establish,” says Jessica. “Fighting against them is the best superpower that you can give to anybody in your organization and yourself. You just need to tap in to help people develop this.”
Watch Jessica’s mabl Experience 2022 presentation and the rest of the Experience sessions.
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