One of the most common trends we see among our clients and in the market are silos between departments.   

The sales team goes out and sells something and lobs it over the wall to the design team.  The product / design team has to figure out what the sales team just sold and how to design it with limited information. The production team, then, had no input on the sale or the design and now has to figure out how to make the product despite unreasonable expectations set by the sales team and some interesting design choices from the product team. 

At the executive level, the CEO wonders why sales, design, and production fail to have smooth transitions and solve problems. Each department act like teams working independently of each other.  When confronting the matter, the word “they” is used when talking about another department instead of using the word “we”.  

See the problem? The problem is that these teams are not designed to work together.  They are designed to be and are disconnected.  The solution is to change the design.   

There are two ways that connections occur within an organization: natural connections or managed connections.

Natural connections occur without much effort.  They happen with teams that work together daily or between people who have similar jobs.   When I worked as an engineer, I sat next to Greg who was also an engineer who did a very similar job to mine.  Greg and I talked every day and worked together very closely as a team.  We had a natural connection. 

There are elements that can reduce the chance for natural connections to occur.  For example, people with very different jobs might not connect as well.  I’ve been in some manufacturing facilities where engineers almost never interact with operators who work on the production floor.  The two jobs are very different in nature leading to a natural disconnection. 

Another trending element that reduces natural connection is physical location and geography. We’ve worked with many clients who have employees who work in different locations.  Employees who work in the same location are more likely to connect than employees who work in different locations.  This even can extend to working in different parts of the same building such as in different floors.   It’s not uncommon for companies to talk about “the 2nd floor people”.  

Natural connections are very helpful in organizations because it encourages daily collaboration.  People who do the same job in the same location and have a lot of things in common with each other are likely to help each other out.  These people look at each other as a team.  

However, when natural connections do not occur, the solution is to create deliberate, managed connections.

A managed connection is a deliberate effort to bring together people who do not have a natural connection.   For example, we worked with a client who had the problem described above with the sales team, design team, and production team.  It’s not that the people in those teams did not want to collaborate with each other, but rather that they did not have a deliberate place to collaborate.   We created a monthly meeting with representatives from the three teams.  The meeting format was simple; what can we do better together?  

At first the three teams sat separately on three sides of the table and talked about “you” and “us” a lot.  After just a couple of meetings, this group quickly started to find ways to work together.  They stopped lobbing problems to each other and started working together.  At the meetings, they even started to mix up where they sat.  

This meeting is an example of a managed connection.  It’s a simple acknowledgment of a place where a natural connection is not likely to occur.  

Too many organizations rely on natural connections to ensure effective communication. Instead, organizational leaders should look at where natural connections are not likely to occur and create deliberate managed connections.  These managed connections will greatly improve communication and collaboration across departments.  

The next time you ask yourself why two departments fail to work together more often, I encourage you to ask a different question.  Ask yourself WHERE they should work together.  You might need to create a place for a managed connection to occur.


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