Breaking Down Silos: Tips For Collaboration And A Culture Of Innovation

For centuries, educational and professional traditions have emphasized depth. We pursue degrees and certifications that further our knowledge of a topic or discipline in the hopes that it will boost our career prospects. We even network narrowly, attending conferences that most closely align with our existing interests and expertise.

In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, these approaches pose a challenge. Organizations and individuals are increasingly exposed to problems that cross traditional departmental boundaries. It should come as no surprise that some of the most successful and innovative companies in the world are also the most collaborative. 

While the value of collaboration hasn't gone unnoticed in Silicon Valley, the everyday businesses driving our economies have been slower to adapt. Instead of devising formal strategies to encourage collaboration, many continue to enforce rigid boundaries between disciplines and departments through dated processes and policies.

To devise innovative solutions to emerging challenges, organizations of all shapes and sizes will need to break down the silos that stifle the collaboration and creativity needed for innovation to thrive.

The digital economy has reshaped many jobs, and one of the clearest illustrations of this trend is how the CMO's role has evolved over the last decade. Marketing professionals are increasingly expected to leverage technology in their day-to-day, and CMOs are even predicted by Gartner to outspend CIOs on tech by 2017.

While substantial press addresses the merging of these two particular disciplines, there is also a failure to acknowledge the broader trend of convergence, and the importance of collaboration beyond the C-suite. We should be using this example to illustrate new methods of cross-departmental collaboration, and to highlight the opportunities that come with it.

Some of those benefits are well known. Innovation keeps you agile in a rapidly evolving, globalized economy. It can insulate you against disruptive forces. It can even help you attract higher quality talent, and retain them longer.

But collaboration can be hard to facilitate, and it can be even harder to identify. Here are some tips to guide your efforts:

  • Collaboration ≠ presentations. Collaboration should involve earnest discussions and exchanges of ideas, not the unilateral presentation of them.

  • Collaboration deals with hierarchy. Individuals from all ranks and all departments should feel comfortable contributing, and senior leadership should be aware of how their presence affects power dynamics.

  • Collaboration is not an accident. For collaboration to thrive, you will need to actively develop the space and time necessary for team members to interact with each other.

  • Collaboration is not an order. Leaders will need to demonstrate their own commitment to collaboration by participating in it directly, not just requesting it.

  • Collaboration involves a willingness to learn. To truly gain value from your peers, you need to be open to new knowledge and new ways of doing things, even if it might make your life temporarily more difficult.

  • Productive collaboration arises out of trust. For people to feel comfortable sharing with each other, trust is essential.

Spaces for collaboration can be created both online and offline, and ideally both.

Offline spaces should be neutral and power dynamics should be considered. While boardrooms might be practical, if informal spaces are available, they may do a better job of putting everyone at ease.

Online collaboration spaces for example could include social networks, or intranets, where ideas can be easily and regularly shared with the team.

Unfortunately, there is no formula for collaboration or innovation. Each organization has their own unique history and culture. However, for either to truly succeed, the silos must come down.