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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

A Lesson from the Fusion Reaction Team:
Tear Down Department Silos

Robert Shaw, the famous choral director, sometimes grouped his singers with singers with different vocal ranges. Shaw wanted sopranos to hear how they sounded alongside tenors or altos, as well as alongside sopranos. With the new mixed arrangement, the chorale produced a distinctive lush sound. Often, business objectives are best achieved by teams from different departments-- teams whose members have different perspectives and different skills.

Collaborations with people from other organizations can also be effective. For the first time, fusion reactions produced in labs have created more energy than was expended in the experiments. These successful experiments may eventually lead to a viable new source of energy, the US Energy Department reported. This successful effort resulted from many years of experimentation conducted by "an interdisciplinary team of scientific and engineering talent from the government, universities, and private sector."

However, departments within the same company sometimes work at cross purposes: they don’t communicate with or otherwise "hear" each other. One department speaks of "bits and bytes," while another speaks of "customer journeys." Departmental silos hurt staff, the company, and customers. In addition, without cross-department fertilization, "group think" can prevent innovation.

= Five Barriers to Interdepartmental Communication*

  1. No formal mechanism for communication. Staff don’t hold joint meetings or share documents. The organization doesn’t expect departments to collaborate.
  2. "Strict productivity goals." People under pressure to meet their own department’s goals are unlikely to collaborate to meet shared goals or to innovate.
  3. "Personal conflict." Conflict inhibits sharing of information and collaboration to achieve common objectives.
  4. "Physical separation." Departments that should work together may be situated in different locations and even in different countries.
  5. "Tribalism." Excessive group loyalty replaces company loyalty, preventing successful collaboration.

(*Status Net list; Winett examples)

In an environment where workers feel threatened or unappreciated, people look out for themselves or their group. Management should promote collaboration through better explaining company objectives and by valuing and respecting employees. In addition, management should provide opportunities for interdepartmental collaboration. When workers are encouraged to collaborate, they are more innovative and more productive. Importantly, customers benefit, as well.


NPR radio station 12/7/22, Robert Shaw example.

"Beautiful Dreamer," Robert Shaw Chorale

Koonin, Steven E. and Robert L. Powell, "How Fusion Works and Why It’s a Breakthrough," Wall Street Journal, 12/ 16/ 22.

Interdepartmental Communication: Best Strategies and a Case Study

Best wishes for a Happy and Healthy 2023!


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Copyright ©1/23 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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