Laura Petrolino

How to Break Down Organizational Silos With the IKEA Effect

By: Laura Petrolino | July 15, 2019 | 
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Break Down Organizational Silos with the IKEA EffectOne of the biggest struggles communications professionals face are organizational silos. 

Organizational silos are our kryptonite.

And we tend to feel the disastrous effects of them more than any other professional function or department. 

I often see the communications department as the thread that ties every part of an organization together, helps it run effectively internally, and positions it successfully to the outside.

When walls go up around departments that communications can’t break through, everyone fails. 

Working in our field, it doesn’t take long to realize organizational silos can keep you from reaching your goals.

And in turn, they keep the company from reaching theirs. 

Signs of Organizational Silos

First, let’s start with how to quickly and easily you can spot organizational silos.

They’re pretty easy to see if you’re an in-house communications professional, because you’re there day-to-day.

It’s more difficult if you’re an outside consultant working with a client.

Especially if you only communicate regularly with one organizational segment or point person. 

This is a key reason we start EVERY client relationship with a strategy session.

It allows us to begin the relationship with a better understanding of the situational dynamics and talk to more of the different departments that make up the brand. 

Organizational Silo Red Flags

But most agency relationships don’t start this way.

So here are some clear signs to look for and questions to ask as red flags:

  • Tasks are duplicated. You notice that the comms team will do a task and then find out the sales team has already done it. 
  • Team members don’t know who to contact to find an answer to a question. You ask the comms team a question about operations, and they look at each other blindly and aren’t sure who to contact to find the answer. 
  • The communication team seems to have no idea about any details of the other divisions. It’s one thing to not know small or technical details, but when the comms team has large gaps in knowledge when it comes to the operation of other departments, that’s a problem. 
  • There is significant customer discontent. Often an agency will be hired to help the organization with their customer experience. One of the first places smart agencies look to figure out what might be causing customer discontent is organizational silos. Because they often cause broken and inconsistent customer experiences. 

If you experience any of these things, raise the red silo flag.

You have a problem. 

Enter the IKEA Effect

Ok, so what is the IKEA Effect and why will it help you break down organizational silos? 

The IKEA Effect is the term psychologists use to describe the phenomena of absolutely loving something so much, you build it yourself.

When you build that IKEA bookshelf, you feel more connected to it than if you bought it pre-assembled.

You put work into it, so it’s more yours than a pre-made shelf. 

Dan Ariely gained popularity with his suggestions to use the IKEA Effect to increase motivation among employees, as well as other leadership and organizational strategies.

If you feel part of something, you are more engaged, more bought in.

You feel a greater sense of responsibility and a greater sense of pride when that thing YOU created succeeds.

Likewise, you care if it fails. 

As communications pros, we have a unique opportunity to do the same thing to break down organizational silos and get everyone invested in the success of the communications plan (and in turn that of the organization).

Use Strategy Sessions to Destroy Organizational Silos

Gini Dietrich has talked about our use of strategy sessions many times before.

It’s how we start every engagement and it’s part of what we train our agency owner clients to do, as well. 

We love these sessions and they have been a crucial component of our business.

They work really well to set the client relationship on the right foot from the beginning.

And start to break down organizational silos.

How?

In our strategy sessions, we have different elements that stakeholders from all parts of the business attend.

This means all parts of the organization are part of the development of their communications plan and the goals around it. 

Everyone builds it. Everyone is responsible for its success or failure. 

Make Sure Reports Are Useful for Everyone

Here’s another great example of a common silo problem and how to fix it.

Has something like this happened to you?

Like a good little modern communicator, you use business-driven PR metrics to report progress and success. 

You provide regular reports to explain the data and how you will use it to adjust or optimize your communications strategy. 

You list your priorities for the upcoming week or month, the needs, and questions for each area of the organization. 

And then you meet weekly with the organization’s marketing team to review everything. 

Even better, your strategy is working!

Suddenly you find out sales is irritated because they are getting a bunch of leads in through your conversion funnels and weren’t prepared to handle them.

The customer service department is missing inquiries from customers on Twitter, even though that is where all messaging now pushes customers.

And the product team is discontinuing a product you were just told to do a campaign around by the marketing team.

What Happened?

Your reporting isn’t getting farther than the marketing team.

They are busy doing their jobs and don’t have or take the time to explain things to the rest of the organization the way you explain it to them.

Even if reports are passed on or sent to everyone, other department leads don’t read or understand what they mean or even assume it affects them. 

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Technology to the Rescue 

You can’t always get every department lead on update calls.

But what you can do is give them an easy way to get information from you without being part of all your marketing calls. 

After dealing with this issue in some of the larger organizations we work with, we started doing reporting videos.

We use Loom or Zoom (I like Loom because I know when people watch it) to go over data and analytics.

In the videos, we explain what everything means, discuss ongoing strategy, and then review needs or questions for each stakeholder in the organization. 

We make sure we have a direct ask from every department stakeholder involved, some actions they need to take, or a request for expertise.

This means they need to watch to understand the ask and engage with an activity specific to supporting their goals.

Just adding this one element has been a game changer to help get everyone on the same page, break down organizational silos, and make everyone feel part of the plan (and thus more invested in it). 

The IKEA Effect to Break Down Organizational Silos

The IKEA Effect only works when someone invests work into an outcome.

They need to feel like they’ve given something to it, worked on it, had a part in its creation. 

Look for ways you can consistently task members from all parts of the organization in things valuable for your communications efforts.

  • Ask for their insight or expertise. 
  • Have them write content or interview them for a blog post.
  • Coordinate your campaigns around things important to them and their goals. 
  • Ask them questions consistently and authentically. The perspective and knowledge gained from all parts of an organization are crucial to help you do your job best. 
  • Be open to their ideas and needs. You might know best when it comes to communications, but you don’t know best when it comes to integrating communications efforts into other departments’ needs.

Make people part of everything you do and all of your efforts will be more successful. 

How do you break down silos? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Image by marcson from Pixabay

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.