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It’s Good to Talk: Breaking Down Organizational Silos

As companies transform themselves, there is increasing need to build bridges across departments. Insights departments can play a critical role in breaking down the silos that exist.

Editor’s Note: As the digital transformation of business moves into high gear, how people within companies relate to each other has to change too.  Many organizations struggle with this.  From my own experiences with trying to get companies to take an integrated view of the data they hold, I can say that it isn’t easy.  At an intellectual level, they can understand the corporate benefit of breaking down barriers, at a psychological level, people like to control what is “theirs”. Zoe Dowling gives us a valuable perspective on how Insights departments can take a lead in breaking down silos within organizations.  It’s a challenging journey, but there is a great benefit to get to the other side.

In the early to mid-1990s, late actor Bob Hoskins was featured in a series of British Telecom (BT) adverts exalting the premise ‘It’s Good to Talk,” while inviting you to sign up for ‘friends and family’ calling rate with your five nearest and dearest. So what you ask?

1990 was almost three decades ago (a horrifying thought), few of you reading are Brits and, perhaps most importantly, this campaign was for landline telephones. Who on earth has one of those now?

Internet calling through VoIP phones and smartphones has eliminated cost considerations for short- and long-distance calls, making the idea of a cheaper rate for a handful of people alien.

All of this begs the question: what’s with this culturally obsolete reference? Well, I bring it up because Bob and BT were onto something. It is good to talk.

Communication is as essential in our professional lives as it is our personal ones. Today it is perhaps even more vital. Every department within a business is transforming. Businesses as a whole are transforming, across all sectors and verticals. Technology is a leading driver of this change as is the Experience Economy.

One outcome of the change: departments can no longer work in silos. In the Experience Economy, companies need to create relevant experiences for their customers. Furthermore, those experiences need to be company-wide, from brand messaging and website to product and customer service. Every interaction with the company needs to be a consistent, positive experience delivering on the brand promise. In order to be successful, all departments need to communicate and collaborate with one another in a concerted effort to deliver upon this experience.

With this goal of creating a consistent and cohesive experience across the company, the need for customer feedback is extending into all departments, at all levels. In decades gone by, consumer insight was something that informed areas in silos – such as advertising messaging and effectiveness, brand health or ad hoc inspiration for innovation. Today, like all other departments, Insights teams need to work across the entire business.

Insights teams now have a greater emphasis on being known, disseminating impactful findings and assisting with activation to fulfill their vital role in various business decisions. They are also taking on the role of educators. In companies where research is becoming the fabric of every department, there’s a shift for non-researchers to undertake studies that don’t make sense for the Insights team to tackle – either due to capacity or scope. But with education and support from the Insights department, other departments are enabled to conduct their own studies.

We are indeed in the era of the Transformational Researcher.

However, breaking down silos to fulfill all these functions is challenging. The hurdles come in different forms for different companies. For some it may mean achieving leadership support, for others it is about building trust and buy-in across departments, identifying and working toward a shared vision. Oftentimes, the first challenge is simply building awareness of the Insight department and work being done.

However, when Insights are known, and the data gathered is meaningful, they are valued within the business and become built into most decision-making processes. This is the case within the Insights team at The FA Group (The English Football Association). In six short years, Insights has grown from one person to a team of nine serving the entire organization from marketing and communications to Wembley Stadium operations as well as internal HR and finance teams.

It is not easy bringing all departments to the table; it requires considerable time and financial investment, and it doesn’t happen overnight. The first step is to open the lines of communication. Transformational Researchers need to have meaningful conversations with all parts of the organization and learn the language of the different teams – Product speaks about customers in one way, while Sales uses a different vernacular. By understanding this language, and combining it with that of the customer, Insights becomes the conduit in developing shared understandings, empathy, and goals. And in this sense, it really is good to talk.

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3 responses to “It’s Good to Talk: Breaking Down Organizational Silos

  1. Great post, thank you. I think it helps to remember that everyone has specific skills and experience, and no one can know everything. Just as researchers are highly trained in research methodologies and interpreting research data, brand managers are highly trained in bringing products to market and understanding transactional data. Put those two things together and you have a recipe for success!

  2. Great insight, Zoe, into the critical role Insights can bring to an(y) organization. Real challenge is our making the case to the various silos that we can provide value to each one, as well as playing the role of linking them all together into one communication chain. Easier said than done.

    Much depends on the role/ reputation of the internal research dept. But outside researchers can also help, when teaming up with their internal colleagues to bring the full weight of their intellectual prowess, as well as their sophisticated tools, to the table.

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