4 Steps To Succeed When You’re Working In A Silo Environment

Have you ever felt like you’re tackling every project challenge on your own even though you work in a team?

If you have, you’re not alone in this feeling.

When I recall in my roles as a Business Analyst, Financial Controller and even as a Delivery Manager, I often felt isolated with the impression that no one else around me understood or appreciated my daily challenges. And if they did, I didn’t feel they were able to help.

Today this sentiment is echoed across project teams more than ever before.

Not only are we working alone metaphorically – physically working on our own has also become much more of a reality for many project professionals.

After several months or even years of needing to work remotely and recovering from the many challenges of COVID, project teams have realised the importance of checking in with each other on a regular basis and are doing much more of this.

How to go beyond the team check in

Team check ins are (without a doubt) helping to keep people connected, engaged, and delivering.

But while teams are connecting more in order to distribute the project work, the work itself is often being done in silos.

In the past, having people physically located around you meant you could look up and ask a quick question, offer a different perspective and clarity, get that extra bit of motivation, work through problems with those around you, and just release some pressure by having a laugh.

In today’s work environments, if you have people around you at all, there are less of them.  Team members need to make a phone call to ask a question, or send a meeting request to get a different perspective and this feels harder and more like a disturbance to those you want to speak to. It also takes away from the incidental laughs and exchange of information.

Given there are also several positive arguments for working in hybrid environments, our new silo reality is a factor we will need to work within, regardless of whether it’s our preference.

The 4 Common Challenges We Face When Working in Silos

There are four common challenges that project teams face when they’re working in silos.

  1. Increased procrastination

  2. Decreased motivation

  3. Project delays because formal meetings are needed to work through issues with the project team and stakeholders

  4. Single View Solutions, where the solution is created from only the person who is doing the work, instead of factoring in multiple viewpoints


So, how do we work to overcome these challenges and succeed with working in a siloed project environment?

Overcoming the 4 Challenges of Working in Silos

1. Beating the Procrastination Game

To overcome procrastination, you need to understand why you’re procrastinating in the first place. Be clear on the reason, and then take action.

There are three main reasons we procrastinate.

Procrastination Reason #1

We’re not sure what to do 

If you aren’t sure what to do, allocate time to become informed. Equip yourself with the right information and access to the right people so you can successfully complete the task.

Procrastination Reason #2

We don’t feel challenged

If you’re not challenged by the task, create some healthy competition with yourself to make it more interesting. You can set up time challenges to complete the task within a set period and even extend this competition to other team members who do a similar task. 

Procrastination Reason #3

We don’t like the task at hand

If the task is something you don’t like, consider delegating it. If you can’t delegate,  and the task is crucial to the project’s success then you can try:

  • Doing it first to get it over with
  • Working through the task with others online until you have workshopped the desire outcome
  • Setting up an “hour of power” where a meeting is set to get through those mentally challenging tasks. Typically the people involved in this type of meeting don’t work together, but are all online to keeping each other accountable to getting the tasks done. It creates a friendly atmosphere for diffusing what would otherwise be lonely moments of frustration.

Procrastination can present an ongoing challenge in project teams. If it’s something you or your team are really struggling with, even after you try some of the quick fixes above, then check out my Chat Time episode with The Time Fix where we talk even more about procrastination and how to beat it.

2. Find Ways to be Motivated on Your Own

Self-motivation can be a tricky beast to master. Here are some things you can try to help you be effective on your own:

  • Plan out what you need to achieve for the next 1-2 milestones ahead of time
  • Be aware of the dependencies that could impact your work and manage them accordingly, raising risks when necessary
  • Prioritise tasks based on milestones and dependencies
  • Allocate time blocks for completing specific tasks and stick to your commitments! If you decide to dedicate one hour to updating documentation, close your email app and any other apps which may cause distraction from that activity
  • Factor in downtime between heavy tasks. This could be going for a walk, having some food, going for a coffee or tea, doing some desk stretches, or reading.

3. Have Access to People and Information to Reduce Project Delays

Look for ways to get access to the people and information you need to keep things moving. You can do this by:

  • Using an instant messaging tool

These are a great way for project team members to be quickly and easily accessible to one another to get help with impromptu challenges. Don’t abuse the privilege by using it to badger people as this will have the reverse effect.

  • Having daily check-ins

A quick daily check in (at a time most suitable to the entire team) is a great way to share problems, get help and work through the issues.

  • Having designated Health Checks

As an example, set an auto reminder for 10am, 1pm, and 4pm to ask the team if there are any hiccups they are currently facing. Health checks don’t need to be mandated – they’re an opportunity to share challenges and get help to overcome them.

  • Communicating with people you need access to

Give people you need access to sufficient notice on what you need from them, when you require their time, and what their time will involve. Let them know if and when a delegate is appropriate. And most importantly let them know the risks to the project (and possibly to them) if they are unable to assist.

4. Get Multiple Viewpoints by Taking the Time to Confer and Confirm

Even when you’re the expert on the solution, it’s always valuable to have someone else hear or see it.

Sometimes just by reading something aloud to someone else we hear the errors. The same is the case when we talk someone through what we’ve done.

Even the most technical solution should be able to be explained in a simple way so your stakeholders have a basic idea of what’s been done. 

Often when we have worked on a solution for too long, we start to make assumptions. Introducing a buddy review is a great way of making sure you’ve dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s before providing details to the stakeholder for formal review.

It doesn’t need to be done by someone in the same role – in fact, there are several advantages to having someone not in your field understand your rationale for your workings.

If it’s appropriate, you can formalise this process by conducting a peer review with a more senior peer or project leader.

Silos are a reality for project teams, but they don’t have to be a detriment.

Hybrid ways of working are the future of project teams. But that doesn’t mean they have to be a detriment to project success.

Project teams can deliver powerful projects while working in silos, by having processes in place to tackle procrastination, maintain motivation, access the information and people who are critical to the project, and get multiple viewpoints on outputs and challenges.

Even though you’re working on your own, you don’t have to be alone. What change can you make in your project team today to improve the way you work in silos?

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