As in… silos of work within a team, where one or more members are isolated in work or communication from their team members.

broken factory silos

Expertise and ownership are good. Getting a team moving forward together is key. This is especially impactful when starting a new team. When members come from other teams, sometimes they’ll bring work or responsibility with them. If they need to finish off work with the previous team, fine, allow them to do that on the old team. It’s often really hard to get changes merged across teams. The other team didn’t groom that work, and they have their own priorities. Teams need shared purpose and psychological safety. Silos reduce the effectiveness of communication required to build on these two important factors. No need to build shared purpose if you have your own work </sarcasm>^3^.

On tiger teams

Just don’t. Long lasting teams and team stability are paramount to each teams success and cohesion^1^. If you need a team to do some project or work, when you can, allow an established team to tackle it. Bring the work to the team, not the individuals to the work. Breaking apart highly functioning teams is bad for the individuals, and the work. It takes a long time to form and perform as a team. Don’t nod your head and think “forming, storming, norming, performing”. It’s not that simple. What teams need to succeed: Shared purpose, psychological safety, working agreements and shared accountability^2^. These each take time to produce on their own, at the team’s purpose and pace. How does a tiger team benefit these?

preventing silos

So we have a team; a new team, or a new project. How can we prevent silos?

It’s pretty simple. Get them all working on the same thing at the same time.

On several teams i’ve worked with, the first sprint, or iteration is often a disaster, with regards to silos. We “got a lot done”, but nothing got merged. We were all in our own silos and not really paying attention to the board, let alone our team-mates cries for reviews. We all easily identified the silo-based cause. We also reasonably decided to use sprint-themes so only tickets in a given epic could be in that sprint, as decided by the team consensus.

Themes work by driving consensus a bit more easily across the team. Once the theme is identified, it’s easy for anyone to determine what and why were working on something, and what should be in the retro-interval.

Another way to drive to increase communication and cohesion during times when a single theme will not suffice, or on a large team is by pairing-up team members or having “mobbing” sessions, where team members work on a single task, or a few tasks, together. Mobbing could be a hack-fest or hack-day.

One team i help uses sprint themes for each sprint and mobbing via hack-days we host once a month, where the hack theme is identified by voting from the team.

How long has your team existed? Do silos exist? How do you promote shared purpose, communication and safety on your teams? Share and discuss in the comments!

Foot Notes

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