Every organization has an overarching goal of delivering the type of customer experience that builds long-term loyalty. However, this rarely happens when the organization’s various teams struggle to collaborate.
Of course, if collaboration was easy, getting it right wouldn’t serve as the differentiator between industry leaders and followers. And, there would not be so many departmental silos holding organizations back from realizing their true potential.
Consider, for instance, the release of a revised software package. Ensuring that customers value the organization’s incremental innovations often means bridging the gap between the engineering team and customer-facing professionals in sales and customer service roles. After all, those regularly interacting with the end-user not only receive valuable feedback, they also serve as the primary channel to explain the benefits of new iterations. However, this does not happen when there is a lack of collaboration between the departments. It’s active engagement that opens the door for sharing that can either help lead engineering efforts or elaborate on customer desires and frustrations.
As Sue Shellenbarger writes in this Wall Street Journal article, “More companies are asking employees from different departments to collaborate on projects. But dragging people out of their silos isn’t easy. How do you get aggressive, fast-talking salespeople to cooperate with reserved, detail-oriented engineers? Or intuitive creative types to sync with budget-minded planners?”
Understandably, some businesses have found ways to encourage and ultimately fuel ongoing collaboration – the type of collaboration that leads to innovative offerings that customers appreciate. For example, Shellenbarger writes about an agency who leveraged the skills of an engineer, a writer and an art director to develop an interactive online template for content that serves an alternative to the PDF format widely used for informational white papers. “Ms. Crabb, who worked on the project, says ‘Working across so many disciplines at once, we’re able to tackle problems that I never would have tried” in the past.’”
Blending converging trends
At the same time, there are market forces at play that have the potential to reinforce silos, rather than break them down. First, the often debated remote or flexible work arrangements are enabling organizations to leverage diverse talent that it otherwise may have difficulty attracting or retaining.
Remote and flexible arrangements can play a significant role in addressing the growing skills gap. After all, when organizations limit the talent pool to “not only those folks who live within driving distance of your office but also to those who want to drive there will make it even harder to fill that skills gap. The only reasonable way to attract a diverse skillset is to look beyond the immediate area, and that means allowing remote work. If you think that remote work doesn’t matter to your employees, consider that research by Polycom shows that 62% of the global working population said they expect to work from anywhere.”
Without the water cooler or coffee machine to facilitate impromptu conversations, these flex workers are at risk of only contributing individually and not with the input of or empathy for individuals in other parts of the organization.
Additionally, the growing gig economy, comprised of independent contractors who “choose to work on temporary gigs and projects from around the world, while enterprises can select the best individuals for specific projects and tasks from a global pool” is providing progressive organizations with access to diverse talent pools often comprises of the millennials professionals. But these gig workers, jumping from project to project, are also at risk of reinforcing silos, rather than look for opportunities to collaborate.
Furthermore, the gig economy is expanding to the point where a growing number of highly skilled independent contractors are now bringing complete teams to the table when taking on project work. According to Pew Research, 14.6 million of these professionals are now providing skilled jobs for 29.4 million works, accounting for three in ten U.S. jobs.
The key to maximizing the potential within these trends and ultimately realizing the benefits rests with the organization getting the entire workforce playing on the same field. And, as Shellenbarger writes playing well with others “often requires new skills. Collaborators must adapt to others’ ways of working, cede the spotlight to the team rather than hogging it, and speak up when they disagree with colleagues—even when they’re afraid of angering others or looking stupid.”
Additionally, it’s necessary to empower these cross-functional teams with the tools that enable and foster collaboration at a distance. Specifically, deploying a video collaboration solution empowers team members to seamlessly collaborate face-to-face at the touch of a button – enabling everyone involved to easily connect, share content, and collaborate just as effectively as if they were under the same roof.
When organizations truly leverage collaboration, it often leads to innovative products that dazzle loyal customers. However, it doesn’t just happen. Success here takes tools, strategy and the type of environment that encourages teams to think outside the box (or silo).