One of the most common problems found in expert organisations today is that people get caught in their silos, making all cross-functional cooperation difficult and slow. We don’t find silos too unexpected. They are a very natural thing for us humans, and form easily in any larger community of people.

Silos are basically communities of practice; groups of people who share the same experience and point of view and who often learn and deepen their knowledge together. Problems arise when the silos become too distinct and start overemphasizing the differences between each other, rather than the shared traits and goals.

Overcoming silos

We were approached by the Department of Education of the happiest town in the world (as recently reported by the UN’s World Happiness Report). The level of education in this town is world class, and people are both ambitious and passionate about their work. But as so many other organisations, they were struggling to find ways to overcome silos and reveal new ways of working together.

Even when the direction of the desired change is clear, changing the way of working is not easy. People will not simply show up one day at work and start working in a completely new way. For change to really take root, it needs soil to grow in, it needs a reason. Why should we start working across silos?

In the case of the happiest town in the world, the common cause was the creation of a new strategy, a new vision of what our schools need to be and offer today, to best prepare kids for future challenges. This high-level purpose and vision is what is needed to unify disparate silos in an organisation. A higher vision is something everyone, regardless of where you work in the educational sector, can agree is important.

Tools for creating the new

The task at hand was then to start building a plan towards this vision of being the best possible school for the future. To reach such a goal the organisation needs to adopt new ways of working and learning together. Together with the Director of Education and Culture, we created a personal learning path that systematically gave new tools to employees for creating more discussion and co-creation across silo borders, with the objective of creating the future school using a human-centered design process. The path also developed stronger teams and encouraged shared leadership within those teams.

The tools and resources were all included in the TalentMiles App that participants could reach on-demand, whenever it fitted in to their daily routines. Facilitating this process with the help of the TalentMiles App also meant that the progress of change became visible to both participants and the Director of Education and Culture. The question of whether everybody else is doing their part became irrelevant, as the TalentMiles App could clearly show how new approaches, tools and activities were being fearlessly tested across all silos.

Large visions require everyone’s expertise to become reality. Together with these passionate educators, we found a way of not killing the enthusiasm of the communities of practice, while at the same time encouraging more collaboration, co-creation and learning across silos and further outside the organisation.