The biggest challenge in digital is team silos

Written by Ryan Ogilvie - 26 Oct 2020

It’s fair to say that as an agency we encounter many client challenges in digital regularly. One that seems to cause far more problems than anything else is teams working in silos and to different objectives. Let's unpick this challenge and discover what you can be doing to get everyone working together to achieve your business objectives. 

What is the definition of silo mentality?

It all comes down to people thinking they belong to a specific team and only that team. This results in knowledge, resources and work only being shared with others in that group.   

As an example, an SEO or content team working by themselves without any input from Design, Digital PR, Brand or any other department. Often these silos are so embedded within a business that it’s of no fault of a team or individual and those stuck in the silos don’t even realise that it’s happening. 

These silos result in reduced efficiency, lack of knowledge sharing and at worst can be damaging to the business. 

The way we see it, it’s often a mindset that needs to change rather than a change of job title or team shake-up. 

How to know if your business suffers from the silo mentality?

There are a few traits that show whether your business is suffering from silo mentality:

Nothing is getting done

It’s perfectly reasonable to expect different teams to feed into a piece of work but if you find that very little is going live on the website or things are consistently coming in late, silos are often the reason for it.

Silo rivalry

This happens a lot in digital. Team leaders or managers who are so protective of the work their team is doing that it creates friction between disciplines. A classic example is the SEO team not valuing the work that the paid specialists are doing and vice versa, if both teams aren’t working together then the chances are, the business is wasting money.

Employees don’t care about the brand

While this one might sound a little unfair, what we mean here is that you have people that have the attitude of “that isn’t my job” and will trust another team to tackle the problem.

It’s not just an in-house problem

We can’t sit here and pretend that this is a challenge that only our clients are facing. We too saw that teams within Fresh Egg were working in silos and decided to do something about it. 

When we first engage with our clients, we don’t simply look at the initial request and run with it. For instance, we may get a client asking us to help them with an objective of gaining more traffic from organic search. Whereas in the past we would have sent this straight to the SEO team to analyse, we instead look at the wider issues the brand could be facing. 

For instance: 

  • What is the current conversion rate? 
  • Is the content resonating with the target audience? 
  • What is the audience perception of the brand?  

We’ll then get a team together from across the business to identify the core disciplines that need to work together to solve the client challenge. Usually, this is a combination of teams that all need to work together to improve user experience. 

We recently ran a webinar on ‘Why UX, SEO and Content are a Dream Partnership for a Highly Successful Website’ that went into detail on how we as an agency focus on the core client challenge and the user experience of a website above all else. 

Understand the needs of your users

This is fundamental because your target audience doesn't care how as a business you operate internally, they just want your business to satisfy the needs they have as a consumer.

Headshot of Fresh Egg's Conversion Services Director

Better understanding of your users helps in everyone's role, in agencies and in-house. The needs of your users can be the common ground that brings different departments together, there's a common area of interest as everyone wants to improve the user experience. Use this shared interest to break down your silos.

Luke Hay, conversion services director

Start by agreeing on objectives

This one sounds simple, but you wouldn't believe the number of times we've heard that different teams are working towards different overall objectives or even unaware of what the overall business objectives are.

In addition to this, often each department will set goals that benefit their discipline, but these conflict other departments. The situation results in teams only focusing on their objectives without thought for the broader success of the business.

It's never a wrong time to sit back and take stock of where things are. Use it as a chance to work together across departments to figure out a series of central business objectives. Once you've got that it's easy to breakdown how every team can work at achieving success. It's still essential to create objectives unique to each department/discipline.

Communication is key

We get it, lots of meetings can be intense and a drain on the amount of work you can achieve in a day but here's the thing, getting together in cross-departmental meetings is often the key to success.

Not only does it give everyone a chance to share what they're working on (allowing for collaboration), but it will enable blockers or failures to come to light much earlier and allow for the rollout of fixes.

Headshot of Fresh Egg's Conversion Services Director

I’ve come across several instances of teams sat in the same room with no idea what other teams are doing. This creates huge problems and often results in a brand that is underperforming when it shouldn’t be. By removing the silos and even doing something simple like bringing teams together regularly things can move at a much faster pace.

Ryan Ogilvie, Content director

Outside of meetings, make sure you have regular comms with everyone in the business. Email is OK but doesn’t allow for a good flow of conversation. Consider a tool like Slack or Discord that would enable specific channels for discussion, as well as the ability to message someone directly. 

communication apps

So often the issue with teams in siloes comes from lack of communicating with one another. If you can solve the problem of comms, then you’re going to be more successful as a business almost immediately. 

The value of combining team knowledge

Breaking down team silos and combining knowledge will allow teams to more readily work together from the offset rather than go through a lengthy process where a piece of work passes from one team to the next in an endless cycle of feedback and changes.  

Headshot of Fresh Egg's Conversion Services Director

Working with a content strategist is a designers dream. Not only does it let us focus on what we are best at but also makes for a far more robust design that will not require a mountain of rework even at the development stage.

Stephen Carpenter, Head of design

While it shouldn’t have to be the case, sometimes collaboration needs to be formalised for it to work. Get working sessions organised between departments or task multiple disciplines with working on the same project, and you’ll quickly see how powerful breaking down silos can be. 

Don’t be precious about ownership

If there are those within the business focused on owning a particular area, then the chances are there are some fundamental issues with structure across the teams. In addition to using techniques already covered in this piece (jointly setting objectives, and opening communication), investigate where else these silos could are originating?

Sometimes it could be as simple as individual objectives tied to a colleague's career progression that has them fixated on wanting to deliver everything themselves. Using relevant people from around the business will help to achieve the best results. It should all be about being user-focussed, and you can't effectively help users from within a single team.

Headshot of Fresh Egg's Conversion Services Director

Collaboration minimises indulgences and enhances strengths. It helps you focus on the task at hand and what you can bring to it, without overshooting the scope. That means you get a better result.

Callum Grantham, Senior content manager

Why should team silos be a thing of the past?

In summary, relationships with other departments impact the entire business. Teams that can collaborate effectively and understand one another’s role will make for a more efficient and enjoyable workplace.

Collaboration gets work completed on time and to a higher standard. People can feed into each of the processes at the right time, and cross-department clashes will become a thing of the past.

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