Overcoming ‘silo thinking’ to increase colleague collaboration
Jul 15th, 2022
No doubt we will all have our own opinions of who should and should not win the ongoing leadership contest to become the new leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. One thing for certain though is that whoever is announced as the new leader in September will need to create a collaborative team to move forward effectively.
Thankfully it is fairly rare for company boards and teams to operate with quite the same levels of division and differing agendas as political parties do. However, many businesses are held back by a lack of collaboration of management teams that can influence and create a culture of silo thinking.
Many business owners and boards I meet want to make collaboration part of their culture. It has been proven time and again that those businesses that make cross-service collaboration a habit as part of their company culture, reap the financial rewards.
That said, one of the things multi-service business owners say can be their biggest challenge is tackling poor collaboration between different teams, departments and offices. They recognise it is one of the biggest factors holding back their growth potential. It is a problem that lots of businesses have, but thankfully, it is something that can be resolved, with a change of mindset, training and education.
It begins with the top team mirroring the behaviour they want the rest of the organisation to follow, and making that a part of induction and everyday behaviours of the business.
Why is a collaborative culture important?
Enabling business growth
How often do you discover that one of your long-standing clients uses a competitor for a service that someone else in your business could be providing them with instead?
The reason for this is generally not because the competitor is better at that service, but because of a lack of collaboration in your own business and a culture of ‘siloed thinking’ about your own service line and P&L sheet.
In most businesses that offer more than one service, clients will undoubtedly require at least two or three of them
A few years ago I was asked by a client, that I have worked with for many years, to think about how we could create a more collaborative culture within the company. They recognised that they could increase their revenue from existing and new clients, without any extra spend on marketing, simply by ensuring that everyone just talked about and knew more about each other’s services. It took a change of mindset and habits, but through our program we had colleagues from different service lines start to naturally introduce their clients to each other. As a result, significant extra income was generated the following year, without any extra marketing costs. Not only that, it influenced a wider collaborative culture where people really work together for the good of the business and for the good of their individual and collective clients.
Added value through broad thinking
Greater collaboration leads to a broader breadth of thinking, which is beneficial not just to the business, but its clients too. The more people within a business that talk to each other on regular occasions, the more likely they are to come up with creative ideas that wouldn’t be found by an individual thinking things through alone. This acts as your differentiator of why clients use and retain your services.
By developing relationships across different service lines and divisions within a business, it is easier to share expertise and increase the understanding that people have of what other areas of the business does. Often people can list the different services that their business offers, without really being able to explain what they are.
Meeting colleagues more often and finding out what they are doing and how they are solving problems for their own clients also breeds trust between colleagues. This also helps people to realise the value of their colleagues and the impact they could have on their own clients.
Putting clients first versus cross-selling
The ultimate purpose of creating a collaborative culture is to deliver extra value to clients.
Too often we get stuck in a cycle of meeting with clients to report on what has been done. Instead, schedule a strategic meeting every 6 months that is focused on thinking ahead and understanding future needs. Take the time to ask clients bigger questions about their strategy and identify their wider needs beyond your specific remit, finding out what challenges they are facing. This gives you a chance to add value by introducing them to the experts within your company who can help them find solutions.
I often hear from experienced experts and service providers that they feel under constant pressure to up-sell and cross-sell different services and they are uncomfortable with that. Personally, I dislike the word ‘cross-selling’, but with the right mindset, it is possible to see that there is a difference between ‘selling’ and providing value.
When responding to the specific needs highlighted in your strategic conversations, then clients don’t see this as selling, they see it as client care and their trusted advisors wanting to help them. Once your mindset has shifted from salesperson to trusted advisor, your behaviour will naturally change and your questions will be authentic.
Implementing a collaborative culture
For a business to really take to the idea of collaboration, it needs to be led from the top. Leaders who form the executive team usually have to wear two hats, thinking about both the wider vision of a business, as well as the performance of their own division or business line. This can lead to conflict. It is therefore important to instil an “all succeed together” mentality at the very top, in order for it to trickle down.
Habits can take time and effort to change, but consider implementing some of the following:
- Create more diverse client-facing teams from different generations, expertise and gender so that clients hear first-hand wider and more creative solutions to their problems.
- Incentivise and reward those who improve the profitability of other divisions, as well as their own. This could either be financially through a bonus scheme, or with an alternative employee rewards scheme. Make wider company growth part of the appraisal process so that it has to be actively thought about.
- Encourage divisional managers and directors to actually get out and meet with each other over a coffee so that there is more dialogue and discussion about what each is doing and for who. This will help improve knowledge of what each service line offers, but also increase trust levels between colleagues.
- Encourage more training and development programmes to be made up of different service lines – it may have a more generic approach but to hear diverse ways a client problem or a staff issue can be solved is always valuable.
- Create a trusted advisors mind-set amongst your team, that puts client needs first, by ensuring strategic client meetings are scheduled every six months, where meaningful questions can be asked.
- Put someone at board level in charge of pushing collaboration and measuring the results
We will just have to wait and see how collaborative the new Conservative Party leader will be, and in truth we have little control over whether or not his or her Cabinet will have a culture that prioritises collaboration. What we can do though is start putting collaboration at the heart of our own businesses.
In recent years, with increased remote working, it has become harder and harder to drive collaboration. I have run a number of programmes for teams recently where the key aim has been to establish a collaborative culture amongst its leadership team. It is rewarding to see mind-sets and behaviours changing first, knowing that the result will be seen through profitability over the coming months and years.
To talk to me about how we might be able to work with you and your teams to improve collaboration in your business, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about what our clients have gained from our coaching we have lots of testimonials that you might find interesting.