When creating great culture in your organization, it’s important to keep silos at bay. When you’re small it’s easy, because employees are generalists. They help out wherever they’re needed, and everyone interacts regularly to solve big problems. There’s no time for silos to form because everyone is interdependent. Fast forward one hundred employees and you’ll notice a subtle change in your recruiting; you’ll start hiring specialists.
You no longer need an awesome developer to help you build your flagship product. Instead, you’ll need someone focused on specific languages to support and maintain it. You won’t need another Marketing generalist, you’d rather someone with specific experience in SEO. Your recruiting efforts successfully lead to the development of entire teams full of experts. When faced with a challenge, they can turn to one another rather than other generalists. Teams will start to work within their silos and the walls will grow higher.
Does this mean you shouldn’t hire specialists? No. As a company grows, they’re the people that are going to take it to the next level. They’ll build out the strongest set of processes for their discipline. They’ll also know how to compete in their specialty in the marketplace. This means you’ll have to be aware of where walls are developing, so you can knock them down.
There are three reasons silos form in an organization.
Employees don’t know each other as well on a personal level. This can happen between individuals, teams, and departments.
Employees don’t understand what the other departments actually do all day. They’re so engrossed in their own work it’s hard to understand what everyone else is up to.
Employees don’t understand how their work (especially sloppy work) is negatively impacting other teams.
Silos kill culture by crushing communication. To keep silos at bay, you’ve got to increase interaction between employees. This allows them to get to know each other on a personal level.
Employees who know each other personally are more likely to approach one another when they need help. They’re more forgiving when each other makes a mistake and more committed to helping each other succeed.
A great way to increase employee communication is getting them together outside the office with team outings. Here are a few tips and tricks to make team outings successful:
Hold Managers Accountable Managers should know that it’s their responsibility to get their people out of the office for team outings at least once a quarter. Hold them accountable in their performance evaluations for how well their teams are communicating.
Set a Budget Set a per-head budget every quarter for team outings. Make sure managers know how much they can spend for team outings. Managers and teams should feel empowered to make their own decisions for how to spend their budget. I once had a group that wanted to go to a theme park for their team outing. They didn’t have enough in their budget to cover the cost of tickets, but they all agreed to pay the difference.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive Back when the economy was tanking, I had to pull our team outing budget. However, we still expected our teams to have team outings. Instead of bowling or painting pottery, they started hiking, going to the park, or cooking a meal together.
It’s not about how much they get to spend. It’s about helping people get to know each other outside of work. This allows them to strengthen the way they interact at the office.
Cross-Team Outings Be aware of which teams are struggling to connect with each other. Is the QA team getting frustrated at the Development team? Get the managers of those two groups together and plan an outing for both groups.
You’ll be amazed at how a few hours together outside the office makes it easier for one team to approach another.
Lead Them with Ideas There are tons of fun things that employees can do outside the office together. Some groups will come up with a million ideas and others might struggle. Be ready to help those teams by having ideas available for them.
I’ve had teams go to theme parks, white water rafting, mountain climbing, to the park to play games, basketball games, or to local festivals. You name it, it’s out there. Sometimes, giving people starter ideas is all they need to hit the ground running towards outing ideas.
It’s easy to look at team outings as a way for people to goof off without any business advantage. That’s what the skeptics tell me anyway. You have to look past the skeptics. There’s real value add to your culture in getting people interacting on a personal level.
When we know the details of our peers personal lives, we look at them differently. Especially when they need some extra support or grace. Culture isn’t just about fun, it’s about creating an environment where everyone can be successful. Where team can work interdependently, and where people truly care about each other. Team outings are a huge step towards creating just that.