3 Ways to Tear Down Silos and Boost Your Business Intelligence

Originally Posted On: Switch and Shift

By: Kyle Ferguson

Business intelligence departments are the visionaries of organizations. They’re focused on the next generation of products. So they often don’t feel a need to be in constant contact with IT or marketing teams. Likewise, the IT and marketing employees tend to stick to their own departments, preferring to work and socialize with those who are cut from the same professional cloth.

Most leaders see this separation as a positive one; they think a little competition among departments improves performance. But that bias, grouping like with like, is also what drives us to create silos in our businesses, and it’s a habit we need to break.

Silos have a negative effect on productivity. When each group works independently of others, they lack a unifying goal. They work toward their own milestones with no sense of how their achievements fit into the broader organization.

Too much emphasis on competition cripples collaboration, and the silo mentality prevents cross-pollination of ideas.

The Perils of Silos

In previous decades, business intelligence units didn’t have access to real-time information about the company’s performance. Now we do, and it would be negligent to disregard the data in any decision made.

Business intelligence analysts can look at a campaign implemented on Monday and know by Wednesday whether it’s working. They can continuously update their projections of how consumers will respond to new products. Understanding customer frustrations today can, and should, affect the product being released tomorrow.

Without that data, however, the decision-making process is based on emotion and intuition, and these are often misleading.

The best way to make product decisions is to review your market and then examine your internal indicators. BI analysts can’t make well-rounded, educated recommendations if they don’t have the right information from their colleagues in other departments.

Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

Business intelligence and technology should be integrated into every department. Rather than working in silos, they can enhance efficiencies across the organization.

Bristlecone Holdings is an example of a company that uses data to determine which markets to enter and which products to build. We constantly compare economic data with our company’s data. For example, we watch three months out to see if a recession is coming. If it looks like trouble is on the horizon, we brace ourselves by changing our underwriting policies and selling off paper. Both business intelligence and tech give us the power to make those shifts in real time.

Organizations that aren’t siloed also solve problems faster. That’s why we invite feedback and suggestions from different departments. During one group meeting, a representative from our Accounting Department mentioned the problems her team had with inefficiencies. Our Chief Data Analyst offered to help with the issues and resolved them within a week. The CFO might have taken three months to solve the problem because he doesn’t have the same tech experience as our analyst.

Had those teams not communicated, the accounting team would have continued to suffer.

Silos place a huge responsibility on the leadership to solve problems within departments. A more collaborative environment inspires people to discuss obstacles with their peers and draw on the resources around them.

If you’re ready to break down the silos in your organization, here’s where to start:

Unify Teams Under a Common Goal

Announce an organization-wide mission that will drive the goals of each department. This lets people see how their work fits into the big picture, and creates accountability. Tech won’t want to hold up accounting, accounting won’t want to hold up sales, and sales won’t want to delay marketing. Everyone will work harder and smarter. A sense of competition will remain, but it will be used in service of the greater good.

In our best year, everyone at Bristlecone Holdings was focused on sales volume. Each department dedicated itself to reaching a certain goal of origination. We also nurtured cooperation among sections to hit their targets in creative ways. This collaborative workforce was more capable of adapting on major projects than it had been before. Huge savings can be gained when the entire company can pivot on a dime.

Encourage Department Shadowing

Bristlecone uses department shadowing to improve empathy and communication, and this extends to all levels. Our COO shadowed every department during his first four weeks with the company. It’s a great morale boost for the concierge to see the CTO taking an interest in his job or for our accountants to interface with our VP of Marketing.

Implement a shadowing program for all departments, and establish routine check-ins to keep those conversations flowing. Someone from tech and data should interview the heads of each section on a regular basis, asking about their pain points and brainstorming ways to solve them.

Facilitate the Difficult Conversations

Conflicts will arise between departments even after you’ve pulled down the silos. Bring the relevant parties together, and let them see how each operates. If sales sits with tech and learns what it means to design a product, they might be less hard on the tech team when they miss deadlines or need more input from sales. If our CTO experiences our concierge team’s struggles, she’ll be more motivated to meet their needs and make their lives easier. Breaking down the silos fosters respect among departments.

There’s no time for silos when you must make real-time decisions about products and growth strategies. By uniting your business intelligence and tech teams and incorporating them into other departments, you’ll build a sharper, more agile organization that’s always focused on the shared goal.