Busting Your Information Silos (and Tribe Thinking) In Service Industry Teams

By Mark E. Engelberg, TimeLinx

Imagine you’re a CFO. You liaise with team leads for on-the-fly feedback on progress. Growth seems strong, anecdotally at least. However, when pressed for specifics, what’s their response?

“I’ll need a day or two to gather reports. Let me chase them and get back to you.”

The simple act of measuring business performance triggers a difficult process of departmental cross-referencing to gather the correct data from information silos.

Too many businesses have resigned themselves to simply living with this scenario —and too few innovate beyond what’s ultimately a surmountable problem.

What’s the ultimate answer? We’ll get to that. First, we should understand the ‘why’ of information silos.

Why Do Information Silos Start?

The inescapable truth is that information silos are a natural consequence of how people have evolved to organize into hierarchies and tribes. In other words, our information environment arises from patterns in the human environment.

For teamwork to truly make the dream work, organizations must look closely at causal factors exacerbating their employees’ natural tendency for tribal affiliations and mindsets.

The tribal roots of information silos

Collectively, we organize around a single company mission. In pursuit of that mission, we subdivide into localized tribes chasing localized or departmental goals and priorities. That’s how it is in modern business, just as it was in evolutionary prehistory. We’re wired that way.

In the course of all that, different tribes and individuals record their unique data in different ways pertinent to their primary job function and concerns. Our very sense of identity is generated in our relationship with our tribe.

When sub-tribes form within the whole, incentives to satisfy the unique goals of the local tribe we most associate with outweigh the incentives to fulfill the goals of both the tribes around us and the collective tribe, regardless of ultimately being on the same team.

The Business Fallout of Information Silos and Tribal Mindsets

OK, enough of the evolutionary sociology lesson. Back to business.

Thanks to the entanglement of priorities of different business areas, teams and departments struggle to integrate and aggregate information for other parts of the business to use strategically.

The effect of tribal information silos in service industries

In service sectors where time is a billable asset, this lack of integrated data can wreak havoc with financial inefficiency that’s not only rampant, it’s often not even on the radar because the information to diagnose the inefficiency isn’t captured.

How service industry CRM’s promote information silo losses

Here’s an example of how invisible financial inefficiency can be in service industries.

Imagine your sales team closes a new deal using your CRM. Diligently, they create a new CRM Opportunity record about the service work to be undertaken.

How much of the minutia of the detail gets relayed to your delivery teams? Little things like “we have some staff who are not very computer literate, and we have to approach them differently.” Or, “we have an off-site meeting coming up and some people won’t be available.” The project managers who have to manage the projects, track utilization and employee time, plus capture finance and accounting details are busy, yet those details are essential. How do they learn about this information to use in their planning? They usually don’t (until it’s too late).

The effect on the financial risks of these scenarios at scale is daunting even to contemplate.

How Can Businesses and Organizations Finally Innovate Beyond Information Silos and Tribal Mindsets?

If information silos arise from our tendency to create business narratives that satisfy the goals of our local tribe, then busting the silos means innovating toward a single common narrative—one that incentivizes common goals shared by the entire organization.

Of course, modern work culture, with its open-plan offices (before COVID-19) and ‘one team’ company values, have made attempts at creating this common narrative, though with limited results. No amount of company activity days and pizza Fridays can undo thousands of years of evolution.

The answer is to change the IT infrastructure, not the people

Instead of trying to force human change through fluffy HR incentives, organizations must bring change innovation to isolated IT environments that promote and entrench the local tribe mindset.

If your CRM, service management tools, and accounting system aren’t talking to each other, how can you expect the teams and departments that interface with them to behave any differently?

What service industries and their CRM and ERP systems need is some friendly 3rd party intervention from a system able to bridge the gap between CRM and ERP information flows so that all subtribes speak the same language with integrated information sharing and transparency.

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About TimeLinx
TimeLinx delivers innovative project & service management software as a complete solution that perfects the sell-track-manage-support-bill cycle that services organizations must have to delight their customers; TimeLinx brings the cycle together in a single application that offers less frustration, better project management, complete reporting, and improved profitability – all specially designed for Infor and Sage.