How Companies Are Busting Silos in Remote Work Through Peer Coaching Networks

By Aaron Hurst, CEO & co-founder, Imperative and Britt Provost, EVP, Accolade

For all the benefits of remote work that many companies have discovered over the past two years, there are also drawbacks. One of those in particular is slowing down corporate productivity and could cause long term damage: the silo effect.

As IGI Global explains, the term describes “how compartmentalization creates inefficiencies and confusion between employees and departments.” Researchers have long warned about the silo effect. One study found that it “leads to redundancies, poor communication, reduced trust, and often keeps one department or group against another in the company.”

To gauge the impact of the pandemic on this challenge, a team of researchers collected data from the emails, calendars, instant messages, video and audio calls and work week hours of more than 61,000 Microsoft U.S. employees across six months in 2020. The results “show that firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts,” the researchers wrote in the study, published by Nature in September.

The good news is that silos don’t have to grow with remote work. We know from experience that this problem can be solved.

Like many companies, Accolade, where Britt works, has faced challenges with silos over the last two years. The personalized healthcare provider has seen the silo effect increase between their front line and enterprise functions, impacting productivity and retention. With the acquisitions of two businesses, it wanted to avoid new silos emerging that could be exacerbated by the lack of in person events and collaborations with new teams.

Accolade needed a different approach to build connections and expand networks with a distributed and hybrid workforce. It licensed Imperative, Aaron’s company, to build connections across silos using purpose-powered peer coaching networks. The results have been, and continue to be, transformational.

Connecting through shared purpose

The process begins with employees finding their “purpose drivers.” Imperative’s online assessment helps them identify their intrinsic motivations at work and articulate the impact that they find most meaningful.

Using these scientifically validated purpose profiles, Accolade matched employees across silos who share similar personal purpose drivers -- for example, pairing long-time employees with new arrivals and operations staff with front-line workers.

Many of the matches would have seemed counterintuitive were it not for the alignment in purpose drivers. But they turned out to work wonders. As one employee put it, they “share a lot of common values in how and why we do what we do.” Another said they and their partner “have a lot in common and are both committed to support each other” despite being from different silos in the business.

Deepening connection through peer coaching

During hour-long virtual conversations, the pairs explore their purpose drivers and discuss how to activate it in their work to increase their impact and fulfillment. Using questions prompted by Imperative, peer coaches learn from and are inspired by each other’s experiences. Seventy-five percent of participants rated their conversations as “very helpful” or “breakthrough.”

At the end of each conversation they each commit to take concrete actions before their next session together. Since they hold each other accountable, 83% of the time they report completing their commitments, a rate Accolade has not seen in any other program. “It was so nice to have someone like minded and willing to keep me accountable to my goals,” one peer coach said.

Reflecting how deep the relationships that form can be, another described their peer coach as “as a beautiful soul.” This type of response is common. Because these experiences accelerate the creation of trust and belonging between two employees, the overwhelming majority of participants (89%) say they create meaningful, sustained relationships.

As employees build relationships with each other through sessions twice a month, the metaphorical walls separating units start to collapse. When participants switch to new peer partners each quarter, they expand their network, and the walls soon disappear altogether.

From busting silos to building strategic networks

Ending silos is just one of the goals peer coaching can help to achieve. Organizational network analysis (ONA), pioneered by Babson University professor Rob Cross, shows that businesses can design specific networks that are proven to boost other objectives, such as innovation, collaboration, or wellbeing.

 At Accolade, we’re using Imperative’s purpose-based algorithms to achieve all this and more. And the results show that remote work is no impediment.

-Aaron Hurst is CEO & co-founder of ImperativeBritt Provost, is executive vice president, people & culture at Accolade (ACCD).

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.