How do you align your distributed team around the right goals?
Why teams are still trying to break organizational silos
Welcome to the new normal. Distributed teams separated by thousands of miles and several time zones, brought together by virtual meetings, asynchronous collaboration, and a myriad of productivity software.
But with clusters of designers, engineers, growth marketers and other team members spread far and wide, there’s a very real danger that their goals will become scattered, too. These goals are tracked on different tools at different times, or they’re stored somewhere hidden in an Excel spreadsheet.
It’s too easy for fully distributed and hybrid teams to end up in bubbles, using their own tools and systems and pursuing their own objectives. And this isn’t something they’re altogether crazy about, either. In fact, 73% of knowledge workers we spoke to have complained about getting stuck in organizational silos.
It is, therefore, your job as a leader in your organization to pop those bubbles, knock down those silos, and build something that will bring your teams and goals into alignment.
So, how do you do it? Well first, let’s answer the question on everyone’s lips:
Why do silos keep happening in organizations?
We hear you. Remote or not, why are teams still trying to break free from these silos? Don’t project management tools and goal tracking apps make a positive difference?
The way we see it at Qatalog, there are three main culprits—and they transcend tools:
1. Organizations are still taking the wrong approach to goal-setting
Most organizations take a top-down or bottom-up approach to setting goals. However, the top-down approach often fails to consider the team’s everyday priorities, and the bottom-up approach can’t always account for uncommunicated high-level strategy.
These approaches also encourage teams to motor full-steam ahead, in whichever direction gets them to the goal first. This results in silos, because there is misalignment in where each team is along their journey to the goal, and how they’re getting there.
The alternative is a sideways goal-setting; cascading vertical and horizontal goals. This gives visibility, and allows individuals and teams on cross-functional projects to know the true impact of their work, and it allows team leaders to link their work with objectives.
2. Setting narrow goals and creating conflicting teams (or people, or projects)
When separate goals are pursued by separate teams, you can unwittingly allow an “us vs. them” attitude to manifest. But this simply won’t work—especially in a remote setup.
You need to make sure the goals that you set are intertwined with the right people, teams, and projects at various levels of the organization. That way, you can encourage teams to be aware of—and incorporate—one another’s objectives. This pushes everybody towards success.
3. A failure to clearly track goals in cross-functional teams
As teams become increasingly cross-functional—but keep using their own tools and systems—it becomes more challenging to track and measure progress on goals.
Today every growth team is made of engineers, product marketers, growth ops, PMs—each of them using their own set of project management, wikis, and different synchronicity preferences for collaboration. Given the pace and interdependencies these teams work with, goals could end up easily tracked in silos.
What are the costs and consequences of goal-setting in silos?
1. A loss of transparency
Teams will begin to wonder why they’re pursuing these goals, and where they fit in the overall company vision.
For example, if a team lead is prioritizing a top-down goal for a product manager, but it has no clear link to the next two sprints of their cross-functional project, that will quickly cause frustration.
2. A loss of accountability
Without a joined-up approach, it’s harder to keep teams and people accountable. When the engineers are using GitHub and JIRA and communicating to the product team on a Slack channel, while marketing is deep into Notion or Coda, milestones get lost and goals are harder to track.
And when objectives are met (or missed) due to this complexity, who is held accountable?
3. A loss of momentum, alignment and commitment
There are simply too many opportunities for bottlenecks, duplication, and information being missed (or getting lost) when teams operate in silos.
And if teams feel disconnected from each other and the overall mission, they might not feel quite so committed to the cause. During these turbulent times, it’s important to keep the morale high.
These issues can translate into significant costs to the business:
- Fewer projects get completed, on time or at all;
- Opportunities for growth are missed, time and again;
- And you also miss opportunities to improve the goal-setting process, leading to the wrong types of goals being pursued once more. It’s a vicious cycle.
How can you get to a better place with setting goals?
Before you start setting goals, you need to knock down these silos and build bridges between your teams. To do this, you need to set about connecting the core entities of your workspace: people, teams and projects.
The right tools help, but they need to exist in a virtual workspace that provides visibility, context, and a centralized way to work. This workspace can become one central hub for your people—a place to share and follow key files and team updates.
How does a central productivity and collaboration hub help you set, and meet, goals?
With a central, shared hub for all your teams, you can bring together key information about your teams and the work they do, giving easy access to messages, documents, and apps.
Naturally, this helps productivity. But it also helps goal-setting, because you can:
1. Put goals into context
Everyone’s singing from the same hymn sheet, teams can easily search, communicate, and share—and decisions are made on up-to-date data. For example, imagine joining a 500-people company, and on the first day you have total visibility on the goals of each person, team, and project.
And you can see how the goals interrelate without having to be briefed by your team lead. That’s powerful.
2. Improve transparency
Nobody’s left in the dark about their role in the broader vision. They can clearly see where their role fits, and how their activities (and achievements) are contributing to the organizational goals.
And this is a big plus for productivity, too. When teams understand why they’re being asked to do something, they tend to be more motivated and engaged.
3. Increase visibility and accountability
Despite continuing to use the tools they know and love, your teams are now working within a truly shared environment. Leadership can keep tabs on everyday work, monitor objectives, and hold teams to account.
Grab your sledgehammer
As we dive deeper into the new normal of distributed working, setting the right goals is an issue that will become even more prevalent and challenging. To set goals for your teams in the right way, you first need to reconfigure how people work with one another.
So grab that sledgehammer and start swinging. Raze those silos to the ground, and make meaningful connections within a central work hub of activity for people and work.
At Qatalog, Leo oversees development via sprints, user stories, retros, and all those other Agile things. He's rarely a single point of failure, but when he is it somehow involves sourdough bread or improv comedy. Originally from Chicago, IL he now lives in South London with his wonderful wife and daughter. Prior to Qatalog, he was a Software Development Manager at Amazon, a Senior Software Architect for a digital agency in New York, and the front-of-store greeter for a defunct toy store in the Chicago suburbs.