Within larger organizations one of the biggest obstacles to innovation is poor internal communication. A ‘silo’ mentality develops so that departments guard information and ideas rather than share them. People work hard – but in isolated groups. Internal politics can compound the problem, with rivalry and turf wars obstructing collaboration. It can reach the ridiculous stage where the enemy is seen as another department inside the organization rather than the competitors outside.
The leader has to tear down the internal fences, punish internal politics and reward cooperation. This sometimes calls for drastic or innovative actions.
Nokia has an informal rule that no one should eat lunch at their desk or go out for lunch. People are encouraged to eat in the subsidized cafeterias and to mix with diners from outside their department. They have found that the informal meetings across departments are beneficial in sharing ideas and understanding.
Here are some ideas for breaking down internal barriers to communication.
Publish everyone’s objectives and activities on the intranet so that people know what other people are working on.
Organize cross-functional teams for all sorts of projects. Make them as loose or as formal as you see fit but be sure that there is good mixing and that all the departments involved contribute.
Arrange plenty of social and extracurricular activities – sports, quizzes, book clubs, hobby clubs, special interest groups, etc.
Have innovation contests where cross-functional teams compete.
Deliberately rearrange the office layout from time to time so that people move desks and sit with new groups (or adopt a hot-desk approach).
Organize a cross-functional innovation incubator (see ‘Run an innovation incubator’ on page 125).
It is natural for departments in growing organizations to become more insular. As the organization grows, good internal communication becomes more and more difficult. There was a saying in Hewlett Packard – ‘If only HP knew what HP knows!’ It is the duty of the leader constantly to fight the silting up of internal communications and to force contact and sharing between departments.