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Does your right hand know what your left hand is doing? How to improve cross-departmental communication

Good communication is one of the most important qualities of any successful organization. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t focus on improving communication, especially as it relates to cross-departmental collaboration. As Queens University of Charlotte found, 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as being “very important,” but only 18% of employees get communication evaluations at their performance reviews. It can be a challenge to ensure that all departments communicate effectively, especially when a company is growing.

When there is a breakdown in communication, it is often between departments. Often, different departments within an organization don’t have a system in place that allows them to have productive conversations with other departments. 

This is referred to as “the silo effect.” A silo may develop due to physical spaces or managerial differences, among other things. Patrick Lencioni defines silos as “nothing more than the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.”

Why Do Silos Develop?

Department leaders may tend to point the finger at the individual employees within their departments, but a silo often begins at the top. Silos can result from department leaders not communicating with or collaborating. They can also stem from a fear-based culture or inefficient processes. They demonstrate a lack of trust.

Ultimately, though, a silo happens when there is a lack of leadership. It occurs whenever employees develop loyalty to one specific department rather than to the organization as a whole. They may also happen when there are differences of opinion in management or priorities. Not working from the same page with the same goals in mind divides people at all levels. 

There may also be ill will due to long-standing relationships within the organization. Negativity among co-workers can have a significant impact on productivity. Whether it’s between team members or managers and employees, negativity and disrespect in the workplace can lead to a toxic environment that affects your bottom line.

How to Improve Communication

So how do you go about improving cross-departmental communication? Here are a few tips.

1. Establish processes and behaviors that encourage collaboration.

Excellent communication and collaboration are a result of a positive work culture. So without a robust and cohesive mission, without a culture of respect, it’s impossible to facilitate a collaborative work environment.

It needs to be entirely clear what each department is supposed to accomplish, so everyone is headed in the same direction. Department leaders need to establish clear guidelines for the employees under them.

Know the strengths of each team member, and trust each other. Focusing on building a high-trust environment is critical. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that employees in high-trust organizations reported 74% less stress, 76% more engagement, and 50% more productivity.

2. Follow up on commitments.

Once you have established clear guidelines, you need to hold each other accountable. Throughout the day, have check-ins between departments where you can follow up on the status of issues. Be consistent with these check-ins and create an environment where staff members feel they can be open and honest with their leaders and colleagues.

Creating an environment where departments can hold each other accountable will do wonders for your productivity. The American Society of Training and Development did a study on accountability, and found that if someone has a specific meeting with someone they’ve committed to, they have a 95% chance of success. 

3. Bring leaders from a different department in for strategy sessions. 

It’s a good idea to bring the maintenance manager into a production strategy session, for example. Leaders in other departments can bring valuable insights to the strategy and goals within your department. It’s vital to encourage leads within each area, not just at a leadership level but at a frontline level. 

Be mindful during strategy meetings and let the leaders from other departments know that their thoughts and ideas have merit. Make sure you are taking the time to really listen to each other. Don’t assume you have the best ideas about how to run your department; a leader from another department may have a different approach that can help things run more efficiently.

But the main key to cross-departmental collaboration in the workplace is culture. Do you need help with your culture? At POWERS, we specialize in helping organizations to operationalize their culture in a way that will significantly impact your bottom line. Reach out to us to learn more.

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About the Author

Sean Hart


Sean Hart is an industrial engineer with a background in manufacturing supervision and project management. Sean’s background is in improving overall plant efficiencies and implementing Lean techniques to improve processes.