The business is set up in a way that each team is in a separate office or space; sales has their own area and agenda, marketing has theirs. Engineering and product teams are somewhere completely different, doing their own thing. Customer focused teams like support and success are together, but in the corner closest to the coffee. At first glance, you think great! I’ll get so much done without engineering distracting me, and I can build solid relationships with my direct team members.
Until the day comes when something goes wrong, or is misaligned because sales sold something that product never created, and now you’re being told to do damage control because customers are mad. Or, marketing has created an amazing campaign that’s getting thousands of eyeballs, but they’re not the right kind or don’t match with who sales is trying to target, so sales people are spending time with bad-fit customers, losing time and revenue.
Everyone is unhappy, no one is talking, and you wonder: how did we get here? From my experience, it’s the silos, and the structure of the organization both physically (as in the office layout) and mindset-wise. It’s time to break the silo chain, and integrate teams together, both in the office and in tackling projects, products and pricing!
I had a boss who pushed me harder than I’ve ever been pushed before. He motivated and inspired me to exceed my own expectations, and had a hands-off supportive nature that made me feel great and work really hard. He’s also the first person I could have real conversations with about teams and office dynamics, because he too felt the negative side of keeping like-minded teams together and away from other functions. Growth doesn’t happen in a bubble, and this guy is someone who knows that. So, he rearranged our office so that each pod had a mix of sales, engineering and customer/marketing team members. It encouraged conversations, sparked creativity, and overall more cohesion. Suddenly, as a Customer Success person I was having conversations with Sales about a perspective customer, and knew that marketing was working on email campaigns about new product updates that they’d been told about early because Product was right next to them.
Was it met with resistance at first? Of course, we worried that engineering would be less productive if they were closer to someone like me who was energetic and (some might say) loud. Sales wondered how they’d make their calls (spoiler alert: the same way they always did, in call rooms)…everyone was concerned initially, some about team splitting, and others about losing their space at the windows. But it helped to feed better communication, and an overall lifted office work culture and productivity. I got to know things about engineering I never knew before, and learned about my colleagues as people, not just their jobs (which was my favourite part!).
Did a desk switch up solve every problem? Absolutely not. But the visual shift and clear message behind it helped the team break down some walls. And I’ve heard the arguments for why silos exist: engineering needs it to be quiet, business needs space for calls, the list is long and the excuses plenty. But having worked both in a collaborative and function-separate offices, I can tell you without a doubt that my creativity, passion and wheels turn much faster when all teams are communicating regularly and functioning as a whole body. Silos don’t work.