Cross-Silo Leadership – Taking Advantage of Both Horizontal And Vertical Networks for Collaboration

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Though most mid-senior leaders recognize the importance of breaking down silos to help people collaborate across boundaries, they struggle to make it happen. Why is it so hard in reality?

Think about your own relationships at work—the people you report to and those who report to you. Now consider the people in other functions, units, or geographies whose work touches yours in some way. Which relationships get prioritized in your day-to-day job? Typically, most would say “vertical relationships.”

We have seen vertical relationships rise during COVID and remote working conditions across the globe. However, if we ask which relationships create value for clients, we know it is the horizontal ones. Innovation and business development opportunities typically lie in the interfaces between functions, teams and organizations. Let’s explore this concept more below.

The Powerful Benefits of Cross-Silo Leadership

As innovation hinges more on interdisciplinary cooperation, digitalization transforms business at a breakneck pace the demand for horizontal collaboration skills keeps rising. Often, organizations redesign the organizational structure to break down silos. However, creating new structures can be costly, confusing and slow. Although it solves some problems, it often creates others.

Thus, it can be more effective to identify activities that facilitate boundary-crossing. For example, training people to see and connect with pools of expertise throughout their organizations and to work better with colleagues who think very differently from them. So how do we enable people to operate more effectively at the interfaces? Encouraging them to learn about people on the other side and relate to them.

Here are 4 key practices to enable effective interface work:

  1. Develop and deploy cultural brokers to interface across boundaries.
  2. Encourage people to develop inquiry and dialogue skills such as effective questioning to understand others’ perspectives.
  3. Help people to learn and take other’s perspectives and points of view.
  4. Enables others to adopt more systemic thinking and develop a greater appreciation of the vision across networks.

In today’s world, we know that finding new ways to combine an organization’s diverse knowledge and build bridges across boundaries is a winning strategy for creating lasting value. Employees need the opportunities and tools to work together productively across silos to make it happen.

To unleash the potential of horizontal collaboration, leaders must equip people to learn and to relate to one another across cultural and logistical divides. The four practices we identified above are mutually enhancing: Engaging in one promotes competency in another. Deploying cultural brokers who build connections across groups gets people to ask questions and learn what employees in other groups are thinking.

Learn the Key Skills to Promote Collaboration at Schulich ExecEd

When people start asking better questions, they’re immediately better positioned to understand others’ perspectives and challenges. Seeing things from someone else’s perspective, in turn, makes it easier to detect more pockets of knowledge. And network scanning illuminates interfaces where cultural brokers might be able to help groups collaborate effectively.

If you would like to practice these skills in a safe learning environment and walk away with tools and techniques to promote collaboration, join us in the upcoming Building Collaboration Within & Across Teams on March 23, 24 and 25th. 

This year, get noticed by others in your organization as a collaboration champion and expert. Better yet, learn how to do in a virtual environment with engaging activities that you can leverage to support your teams better!

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Michelle Chambers photoMichelle Chambers, M.Ed., CHRL, CTDP, CSODP, CTPC is the program director for Schulich ExecEd’s Centre of Excellence in Organization Development and Change and the facilitator for the Building Collaboration Within & Across Teams. For more information and to register, visit the program’s web page.

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