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A business team shakes hands in a well-lit office: liberating silos and cross-pollination in the workplace

Managing Change for TV Ad Buyers, Part 3: Liberating Silos and Fostering Cross-Pollination

July 24th, 2017   ||    by John R. Osborn

This is the third in a four-part series focused on the “how” of creating organizational change through new platforms, processes, and business models. The series will provide an action-oriented road map for buy-side workplaces.

One of the most daunting challenges in managing change is encouraging people to let go of the way things were in order to accept the way things need to be. This requires moving from department-driven organizational charts to an initially less comfortable work environment—but a work environment that’s unified, well-trained, motivated, and highly flexible. We discussed personal development and team building in the second part of this change management series.

The History of Silos

Around the time Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line in 1913, advertisers and agencies were already segmenting media-buying skills into planning, research, buying, trafficking, reporting, and billing.

Over time, local buying expertise evolved into powerful marketplace leverage and relationships. Local TV buyers tended to stay with one organization for decades, which allowed job security issues to creep in and “silo mentalities” to sometimes emerge.

So how can companies managing change limit the risk of their employees falling back into silos, especially when the potential arises for divides between “old tech” and “new tech”?

The Value of a Cross-Pollinated Workforce

Cross-pollination does not mean everyone is an expert at everything, but only that employees have functional knowledge of related areas and a big-picture view.

For instance, an agency demand-side platform (DSP) manager would also understand analytics and insights, know financial systems, and have relationships with key clients. This minimizes client runarounds, allowing fast responses to challenges and opportunities. Cross-pollination also builds trust and personal bonds that counter us-versus-them attitudes.

Silo-Busters That Work

  • Top-Down Modeling: The second part of this series pointed out that leadership must walk the walk—and in this case, the walk of collaboration and avoiding teams that are pitted against each other. The root problem of silos, as this Forbes opinion piece suggests, is not employee buy-in, but conflicted leadership. The leader managing change—known as the automated advertising lead (or AAL)—must lead both managers and employees.
  • Cross-Functional Teams: When designing teams for a project or initiative, include people from different areas and skill sets. As a side benefit, it has been shown that innovation flourishes in cross-disciplinary teams.
  • Mix Up Meeting Participation: For any project kick-offs, regular status meetings, or specific problem-solving meetings, include employees across disciplines and mix newer, technology-focused people with traditional employees.
  • Change Physical Layouts: Another Forbes opinion piece recommends shifting the physical environment. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Bloomberg works from a cubicle that is the same size as everyone else’s—but collaborative office spaces take many forms. For organizations that might have people working remotely or in different office locations,‘s 2017 review of collaboration software could be especially helpful.
  • Change Reporting Lines: For structuring new levels of collaboration, one tactic is to have managers transfer some responsibilities—taking on areas where they have no experience. I once worked with a Fortune 100 client who completely swapped two managers into entirely new areas. Fears that things would fall apart proved unfounded, and unnecessary tasks and routines fell away as people rallied to make it work.
  • “Work Out” Sessions—GE/Jack Welsh Style: This Harvard Business Review article believes these “structured and facilitated forums, bringing people together across levels, functions, and geographies to solve problems and make decisions in real time” still work. Much has been written on the value and acceleration this process brings to the fast-moving global business world we know today.
  • Motivation: Incentivize the behaviors and goal achievements of collaboration—and not just financially. There are many ways to reward an employee, and even simple recognition works.

Breaking silos empowers employees to drive their own career development, and it can help management lead a vibrant, fun, interpersonally dynamic and creative organization built for success. In the final part of our four-part series, we will look at building strong channels of communication from the ground up.

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