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The Master Key to Unlock Silos in Your Organisation


We all know that a group of high performing individuals is not enough to create a truly high performing team. Collaboration between those individuals is key.

In the same vein, a collection of high performing teams is not enough to create a high performing organisation.  Collaboration between teams is key. Without effective inter-team collaboration the dreaded ‘S word’ raises its head…SILOS. HR and OD professionals want to unlock silos in their organisations because they know that doing so will unlock greater efficiencies and performance for the organisation as a whole.

The irony is that often the teams that are identified as high performing – that is, with high levels of collaboration within the team and high levels of commitment to their shared goals – are so focused on themselves that they don’t always collaborate with other teams so well. 

Solving this is quite the conundrum.

So what’s the master key to doing that?  

We believe the key to unlock success between teams is how we define success within the team.

A lot of teams do of course take the time to align on what success looks like; and in doing so they will almost always define success exclusively from the ‘inside-out’. This means, they will align on things like purpose (the why), objectives (the what), behaviours (the how) and outcomes, e.g. what they want other teams/stakeholders to do. Unfortunately, this is only half the equation.

What these teams can forget is that they don’t exist in a vacuum and that their success should also be defined from the ‘outside-in’. Teams exist to serve external stakeholders whether they are in the organisation or external to the organisation. ‘Inside-Out’ is important but it’s operational. ‘Outside-In’ is far more strategic.

The tendency to neglect the ‘outside-in’ view of success is particularly common with executive teams. Executive teams get so used to demanding what they want from others (the rest of the organisation), they forget to spend time to understand what others actually want from them and whether they are actually delivering on those needs.

The power of defining success from the outside-in (in addition to the ‘inside-out’) is that it requires collaboration to begin with. It requires teams to engage external stakeholders (other teams) to really understand their needs and how they on the outside would judge the success of their team.

When teams across an organisation engage in this practice their chances of committing the sin of acting in silos massively decreases because their efforts to succeed are aligned to others’ needs.


As an HR/Leader, how can I help teams shift their perspective?

To get an ‘Outside-In’ perspective, you need to ask questions like:

  • WHO does this team most rely on for its success? WHO judges our success? (identifying key stakeholders)
  • WHAT do they want from us? HOW will they judge our success? (outside-in objectives)
  • If we deliver on these expectations will we be in a position to get these stakeholders to do what we need them to do? If not, are we missing something?
  • What is their perception of us currently? What is our reputation?

As an example, if a team were building a team charter (aligning on team success), this ‘outside-in’ approach would mean being more human-centred, having empathy and actually going out and finding out what the other team wants and expects from them. It requires an openness, a humility and a willingness to listen.


Executive Teams

It’s especially important that executive teams ask these questions and have an ‘Outside-In’ approach, because what people think about the executive team impacts:

  • Employee engagement
  • Employee experience
  • How inspired they are to come to work and give their all
  • How confident they are in their leadership and the organisation itself

To help teams understand how they are perceived by others across the organisation (and thus what they can do to improve that perception), we use some of our proprietary assessment tools, but you can start this work yourself. Just having a team discuss the aforementioned questions would be a good start. Asking others outside the team would be even better.

By taking an ‘Outside-In’ perspective, teams broaden their definition of success and ensure their success simultaneously helps other teams succeed. This is not the only step towards eliminating silos in organisations, but we think it is a critical one.

Want more? You can find out more about our work with teams, and the Extraordinary Teams Diagnostic™, here.

This article also appeared in People Corp’s HR Spotlight on 28 Jan 2020.

Image credits: Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Posted to Building Extraordinary Teams on 23rd January 2020

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