At my previous job, my team delivered regular data reports to our clients. We showed them a ton of different stats about their wellness program and how their company compared to others. Executives loved it!
But there was one huge problem: It took hundreds of hours to assemble these beloved reports because we had to input the data manually. Number by number. Cell by cell. If you could have relationships with inanimate objects, mine would’ve been with Excel.
Wouldn’t it be nice, we thought, if we had all this data in one place already?
It sure would, we thought. We were such dreamers.
But wait! Little did we know, what we dreamed of did in fact exist. Another team owned it, and we’d just never talked to them about it before. We were heads down in our individual departments, hanging out in our own little silos.
While splitting organizations into sections is necessary, staying strictly confined to our zones can cause some pretty major issues, too.
And though “we find that, more often than not, silos are the result of a conflicted leadership team,” says Brent Gleeson, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Internet Marketing Inc., that doesn’t mean you’re completely powerless if you aren’t in a position of authority.
I’ve found that the following two approaches can help make things run at least a little bit smoother (and that translating into getting your work done faster!).
Look Outside of Your Team for Help
When offered my current gig, it was clear I’d be responsible for addressing a major health concern on campus. When I started to tackle it, though, the sheer size of the assignment started to swallow me whole.
How in the world was I supposed to fix a problem for over 7,000 college students on my own? (Laugh out loud, good luck with that, I know.)
I was so overwhelmed that I put it off. And put it off. And put it off. Until a colleague from another department reached out to discuss one of his main projects for the upcoming semester. And what do you know? His project is targeting the exact same health concern I’m trying to.
Before we spoke, I hadn’t even thought to ask anyone outside of my team about it. For some reason, I believe the onus rested exclusively on my shoulders. If he hadn’t set that meeting with me, we’d both be spending countless hours brainstorming and planning in our own little bubbles.
But now, we can bounce ideas off of and delegate tasks to each other. Our program will be more powerful (fingers crossed) than if we’d forged ahead separately. And, added bonus? It frees up time for us to dedicate time to other responsibilities we have, too.
The point is, you never know who has similar objectives. After all, you’re all part of the same company, so it’s likely that you’ll be working toward the same overall goals, right? Explain your mission to your co-workers, and you may find an unexpected partner. Not only will you feel a lot less stressed, but you’ll reduce the duplication of effort, too.
Establish Regular Touch Bases (or Insert Yourself Into Current Ones)
The reason my team didn’t know about the holy grail of spreadsheets is because we didn’t have regular communication with the data team. And, yes, this is despite the fact that most of them sat a mere 10 feet away. I could roll my chair over to steal snacks from them, but talk about work? Nah, that’s boring.
Though our daily to-dos were quite different, much of the information they used was the same we needed to make bar graphs, analyze trends, and provide programming recommendations.
After this initial faux pas, we set up bi-weekly touch bases with a member or two from each team where we’d discuss our current projects and struggles and how we could help each other. Don’t be afraid to do the same thing in your office. You can always cancel the series if you don’t find it to be helpful.
Sometimes, though, these check-ins exist already—you’re just not included in them (rude). In my case, the account managers had weekly calls with their clients, and occasionally this resulted in them promising custom reporting features that our team had zero idea about. When we delivered a presentation that didn’t include these features, the reaction ranged from confused to hostile.
So, yes, even though most meetings make me cringe, sometimes you need to request an invitation to the party. Because spending 30 minutes with your colleagues far beats the hours it’d take to redo the entire report. Trust me.
The theme of these two suggestions is not getting rid of silos, but encouraging consistent collaboration and communication, which Marcy Axelrad, Global Senior Director of Talent Management and Employee Development at Wayfair, says is critical to an organization’s success.
“Ultimately, Axelrad says, “[interdepartmental collaboration] ensures that people are not reinventing what already exists, and eliminates frustration that results from inefficiency and wheel spinning.”
And, no, it’s not your responsibility to facilitate this for the whole company. You can’t do that all alone. But there are some things you can try, like taking the initiative to join forces with those outside your circle and connecting often with teams that may have some overlapping goals.