Sunday, March 22, 2009

Breaking Down Silos Techniques

As a sometimes unfortunate side effect of the heirarchal layout of many organizations, functional silos appear. Though these silos provide many benefits, they also oftentimes cause a lack of efficient cross-functional communication.

Some methods to break down these silos that I have seen work relatively well in the military include:

  • Regular, scheduled, and well planned meetings between functional groups to facilitate effective communication. Ex: Have a weekly meeting of the decision-makers of several different departments that all are working a different aspect of a common goal. Ensure that everyone knows the meeting agenda, that adequate time is allowed for Q&A between functions, and that everyone comes well prepared with both information and points of confusion.
  • Effective Knowledge Management Techniques. This may mean having information posted in an area easily accessible to all functions (intranet, website, FTP, etc). It also includes such things as standardized naming conventions (to ensure that everyone knows what the name of each file they post or are searching for should be), standard formatting to prevent confusion, and other means to facilitate fast and effective knowledge sharing.
  • Sparingly use acronyms and avoid jargon. The funniest thing to happen is for a briefing to occur, and for each function's slides there are tens of acronyms and jargon words that nobody else in the room has a clue the meaning of. An early meeting for headquarters I witnessed took about three times as long as it was supposed to simply because every five seconds the leader of the meeting had to stop the group to ask what a certain acronym or term was. Usually more than once per slide, the person who brough the slide wouldn't even know the meaning of one of the terms because their staff had prepared it. 
  • When you use acronyms, define them at the first instance of use. Acronyms are meant to make information faster and easier to comprehend. Don't let them make it more complicated.  Ensure that anyone reading your reports can understand them by spelling out the acronym the first time you use it, and/or by providing a table of acronyms for easy checking.
There are a million other ways to break down silos as well. These are just some of the first, simple steps.