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How can leaders help different departments communicate?

14 entrepreneurs share advice on how to bust silos and get people talking.

6 min read


yec_Chuck Cohn

The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBrief posts by YEC.

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Q. How do you ensure different departments (e.g. sales and customer service) communicate issues regularly and clearly with each other?

1. Establish a company-wide communication platform

Skype, Slack, Google Chat, email, phone calls — with so many forms of communication available, it can be hard to know where to find someone. Aid ongoing communication by establishing a company-wide platform. With a service like Slack, you can even organize employees on custom channels so you can easily contact specific groups. — Chuck Cohn, Varsity Tutors

2. Discuss “cascading messages”

It’s now fashionable to criticize scheduling a bunch of meetings, but to solve this issue, they are critical. You must schedule regular (weekly) meetings where the heads of various departments meet. One critical agenda point at this meeting is “cascading messages” — exactly what information or decisions need to be communicated down into the various departments? — John Rood, Next Step Test Preparation

3. Start meetings with issues

Our teams are co-located, so they already spend a lot of time together. Every Monday, we have our executive team meeting — all of the high-level members of each department so we can determine where there are issues. Issues start at the top. Every week is a process of working through those priority issues. — Christopher Kelly, Convene

4. Lead by example

I lead by example, so my managers can see how they should work with each other. Then from there, we have our weekly meeting that determines whether all thoughts, comments and ideas are worked through properly by supporting and communicating with each other. It is important that I go through these issues often so our managers set a good example for their teams as well. — Daisy Jing, Banish

5. Flatten out your organization

Prevent silos from forming. They create communication gaps and inefficiencies. Structure your organization so departments communicate and work together more often. This delivers the added bonus of improving problem-solving and the sharing of ideas. Create shared goals across teams — such as sales and marketing are both responsible for driving sales — to align incentives and reduce finger pointing. — Dan Golden, BFO (Be Found Online)

6. Encourage a culture of communications

Give your teams the right tools to communicate first. Choose a platform, whether that be Slack, Skype or HipChat. Just remember, the platform isn’t as important as adoption. No matter how effective the tools, creating a culture where communication is encouraged and rewarded, and where there is accountability for lack of communication, is key to keeping your team in constant contact. — Blair Thomas, First American Merchant

7. Hold weekly alignment meetings between team leads

We hold weekly, hour-long alignment meetings between team leads, giving everyone a chance to openly discuss dependencies and blocks. The cadence allows managers to save up requests and grievances, knowing that they will have structured time to discuss it when others are prepared to listen. — Hongwei Liu, mappedin

8. Encourage staff to schedule in-person meetings

When an issue arises, it is important that members of each department know who they should be in contact with in order to address the issue in a quick and efficient manner. Even though this is an “old school” method, it is still the most effective way to solve issues because most issues can be solved quickly by getting both parties in a room together rather than going back and forth through email. — Stanley Meytin, True Film Production

9. Maintain a companywide wiki

We keep track of everything in our company-wide Wiki, which is shared among everyone on our team. You can document processes, attach files, collaborate via comments, interlink pages and see how each Wiki page has changed over time. Plus, you can passively receive email notifications about changes made in the wiki, which allows you to keep better tabs on what’s happening inside your business. — Brian David Crane, Caller Smart Inc.

10. Hold internal project kickoff meetings

We do very brief internal meetings between sales and service department heads prior to going to our client and having the initial project kick-off. That way both teams are fully versed in the project’s mission and can speak unified about the scope and timeline of a new project. We then do a final close-out meeting with the client, so that they know the project is done and where to get support. — Robby Hill, HillSouth

11. Organize your Slack channels

Slack can be an invaluable tool for ensuring that a team is quickly, reliably and fully up to speed on everything that is in process, regardless of where they may be that day. Each client or project can be under a distinct channel, with applicable staff included. Company-wide channels handle information the entire team needs to know about, and a focus on continuous communication can pay dividends. — Jeff Jahn, DynamiX

12. Be sociable outside work

Make time for team members to get to know each other outside their work roles. The best way to encourage communication is for them to truly know each other, not to make half-hearted rules for communication. — Richard Kershaw,

13. Spend a day with another department

Obviously, the grass is always greener. Department heads fight all the time, that is why we started implementing “a day in the other manager’s shoes.” On a slow day once a quarter, the managers switch departments and see what goes on in other areas of the company. It is amazing what happens: They come up with amazing solutions for each department and make their own much better in the process. — Tommy Mello, A1 Garage Door Repair

14. Tell people to overcommunicate

Get your team to over-communicate when it comes to problems. We are often afraid of copying multiple people in emails. But when problems arise, you’ll be happy you did. Demonstrate by example when issues come up how everyone should be informed about a problem. When everyone becomes involved during the difficult times, you more quickly solve issues and strengthen your team. — Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors