12/23/2015 | Chuck Leddy

Effective business communication becomes a bigger challenge as your middle market company grows. Some employees may miss the forest for the trees, focusing more on their departmental roles than on adding value to your overall business.

Effective Business Communication Through Smashing Silos

Getting all employees to pull in the same direction is the goal of effective business communication. However, a "silo mentality" — one that emphasizes interdepartmental rivalries (such as sales versus operations, for instance) — may hamper communication efforts. When employees communicate up and down within their department, but not across departments, your company's coordination and productivity can suffer.

How Can Your Middle Market Company Break Silos?

In combating harmful departmental silos, midmarket companies actually have an advantage. Larger enterprises' workforces are often spread across the globe, but your leadership team and employees are probably more of a close-knit family. As such, your culture is likely to be more collaborative than that of a large-scale, multinational enterprise. Silos can still appear, however, and they need to be broken down.

Here are five steps to smash the silos that can become obstacles to effective communication within your company:

1. Assess the problem and its effects on your internal communication and operational efficiency. For example, if your sales team makes promises that your operations team cannot deliver upon, then you have a classic formula for disappointed customers who will quickly switch to your competitors. When sales and operations people don't interact and share information, the result is finger-pointing when things go wrong. This is unacceptable for your customers, who rightfully assume that everyone at your company collaborates with one goal in mind: customer satisfaction. Sit down with your department heads and ask them about cooperation and communication between departments, and then evaluate the cost of the silos you identify.

2. Once you've assessed the problem, get buy-in from leadership in driving a more collaborative environment. Be careful not to blame anyone, but instead emphasize the shared responsibility for improving cross-departmental communication. The cost of allowing silos is too high to do nothing. In his book "Silos, Politics and Turf Wars," Patrick Lencioni writes, "Silos — and the turf wars they enable — devastate organizations. They waste resources, kill productivity and jeopardize the achievement of goals." Make an organizational commitment to smashing silos within your middle market company.

3. Adopt common systems and process so everyone has the same knowledge. Silos happen in your employees' brains when they put their departmental loyalties ahead of all else, but nonintegrated IT systems and nonstandard processes can be powerful, tangible inhibitors of information sharing. Allow people across departments access to shared information so you have a single source of truth. Integrating your IT systems and processes aligns perfectly with integrating your people and departments.

4. Establish cross-functional structures to support information sharing. This might be as simple as tasking a committee with looking for ways to improve company collaboration. You could also set up events wherein each department presents its latest initiatives to the whole company, or encourage experts to become mentors to employees in other departments. Additionally, social events and off-site retreats are great ways to promote better communication.

5. Use your midmarket company's physical space to your advantage. Have common areas where people from all departments can chat over a cup of coffee or lunch. Making it possible for people to bump into each other across departmental boundaries can mean a lot for improved communication. Consider an open office plan that breaks down physical, departmental silos into shared turf. Common space facilitates shared experiences, and all of it helps smash silos.

While every middle market company is divided into departments, and for good reason, that doesn't mean cross-departmental communication is less of a priority. Leveraging the know-how of all your departments, especially customer-facing ones, is a key driver of middle market success. By following the five steps listed above, your middle market company will be well on its way to creating a more collaborative, less siloed business environment.

Have silos caused problems for your business? How have you worked to overcome them? Let us know by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+ and visit his website.