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Breaking Down Silos

Proactive collaboration improves emergency response

Do you know which departments in your organization you’d need to call if a tornado flattened one of your stores and forced a shutdown? Do you have specific contacts within those departments who know you and your department and would be ready to help? If the answer is “no,” you’re likely working within a siloed organization and missing out on valuable opportunities to improve your emergency planning effectiveness through collaboration.

Silos are a legacy from traditional organizational structures where different departments carried out specific types of work. “What happens is that people align with their department’s mentality,” said Cheryl Cran, an international consultant on the future of work and change leadership. Each department has a mandate; facility management’s is to keep stores in tip-top shape, PR’s to let the public know what’s going on and legal’s to protect the company in its dealings with others. When departments operate within silos and focus only on their own mandates, however, they often don’t understand or consider the needs of other departments.

By forming collaborative relationships across different departments, FMs will be better able to plan for emergency situations from multiple perspectives, Cran said. They can build those relationships through traditional face-to-face interactions and through current communications technologies. But some department leaders, especially baby boomers, are reluctant to employ technology for this purpose. They need to understand that technology is not replacing the traditional way of communicating but only providing more opportunities for interactions in a different way.

Almost all companies have readily available but underutilized tools on their intranets – chat or IM and/or learning platforms that everyone in the company can use to connect quickly. Using these tools, someone from facilities management can easily send an IM to a counterpart in PR or in legal, alerting them to new facilities management programs or to some other information that could impact their departments.

Better planning, better response

Emergency planning is easier and more effective when FMs develop collaborative relationships since all departments gain a better understanding of the roles that they will play. If a fire strikes a retail store, for example, the FM must work with HR and store managers to reschedule employees and decide who should come in to prepare the store for reopening. The PR department will have to manage the media coverage and will need information from the FM regarding the extent of the damage and the likely reopening date. The legal department will be involved in expediting contracts to get repair work completed quickly.

Using chat, IM and other technology platforms, FMs can be more proactive in emergency planning, conducting virtual emergency drills to test and improve their disaster preparedness plans. They can proactively develop emergency management teams with contacts from all the involved departments, team members who will know each other and be better prepared to work together.

“The more we are aligned ahead of any disaster, the better we are prepared,” said Cran.

When reaching out to other departments, FMs should word their messages so those departments will want to be involved, Cran added. An FM might entice PR to join a discussion by messaging, “PR, how would you like us to help you in the event of a disaster?” or “PR, we want to give you a heads up on this specific scenario as we want to provide you with the opportunity to craft the best PR message.”

Once these interdepartmental collaborations have started, it’s essential to keep them going. Over time, discussions on disaster management might evolve to include facilities optimization in general. The key is inviting stakeholders from various departments to take part so all managers can benefit from the broader perspective.

To maintain collaborative relationships, FMs need a point of contact within their department who is comfortable with current communications technologies and eager to reach out to counterparts in other areas. “They need champions in each department, specific people who are excited about the future of work and about leveraging technologies to break down the silos,” said Cran.

FMs who don’t have the time or desire to take on this role could try reverse mentoring, identifying the people in their department with good technology skills (often millennials) and asking for their ideas about creating and maintaining this type of dialogue. “The Gen Ys are itching for people to come and ask them how to do this with technology, because they have the answers,” Cran observed.

By breaking through the silos and forming collaborative relationships, FMs gain valuable insights from other departments that can improve their emergency planning and their daily operations. They also ensure that facility management’s concerns and insights are shared throughout the organization. When a disaster hits, the FM with collaborative partners in other departments will be better prepared with an organized, integrated plan for dealing with it. 

“When departments operate within silos and focus only on their own mandates, however, they often don’t understand or consider the needs of other departments.”

Cheryl Cran

 

By: Mary Lou Jay

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