Working Across Silos: The Key to Success

Guest Blogger: Shira Rubinoff

In our post-Covid world, as companies continue to grapple with the challenges of deconstructed hyper-siloing, one company seems to have figured out the secret success formula. Digital Hands embraces a collaborative culture that encourages individual contribution, team achievement, and cross-departmental partnership. 

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with company CEO Charlotte Baker, along with its CTO Jason Allen and VP of Operations DeWayne Alford, to better understand how they consider the business, technological, and operational demands in their decision-making and overall organizational efficacy.

What became clear within the first few minutes of our conversation was how closely each of these individuals worked together, and they credited both their regular communication and common mission alignment for their strength.

As AI marches forward, and automation and automatic data analysis emerge as the future frontiers, humans are increasingly being relied upon as key decision-makers.

As she grew her company, CEO Baker cited hiring as the key lever to her success. She shared that her team must be close-knit, mission-focused, and compatible from the ground up. Every employee must understand and embrace the Why of the company. She admitted that while some label the Digital Hands interview process as “hellish,” it is critical that a variety of team members participate in the vetting process, thus intensifying the candidate’s overall interview experience and lengthening its timeline. Ultimately, individuals from varying departments must work together, and therefore, they must be involved in recruitment and decision-making. Within Digital Hands, departments work together on everything from developing new designs and out the door to labor allocation considerations and predicting new emerging automation.  Virtually all areas are collaborated upon or are, at the very least, discussed and understood across departments so that all advance as a single, aligned whole.

In addition to hiring the appropriate talent through a rigorous and multi-tiered process, Baker shared that when considering new candidates, she predominantly looks for innate intellectual curiosity. From its very inception, Digital Hands hosted a What Works Room, a space where staff leave their functional hats at the door and enter on a strict peer-to-peer basis. The goal is for employees to work together, equally, without rank or title, in an intellectually charged atmosphere on solving puzzles and challenges faced, ultimately reaching workable hypotheses, without any emotional attachment. Baker stressed that her team members are aligned and focused on the company’s mission and that they do not suffer from what she called a silo mentality. “Diversity of thought and mind,” she claimed, “yields better security.”

And how does all of this relate to cybersecurity, and what are the greatest challenges currently facing?  CTO Jason Allen immediately cited speed and the drive to constantly be able to design and deliver faster and to produce value quicker. He admitted that while serving as chief technology officer is not easy to fill, it is precisely solving challenges such as these that bring him the most satisfaction in his role. 

Dewayne Alford, VP of Operations, built upon his colleague’s response and shared that, ultimately, his everyday goal is to keep his finger on the pulse of both emerging challenges and solutions so that whatever product is being delivered is the best it can be and that it reflects the standard that Digital Hands is renowned for.

From her bird's-eye perspective of CEO, Baker continued to discuss the challenge of successfully hiring the right candidates, ensuring that they reflect the intellectual curiosity that is part of her company’s DNA, as well as a tolerance for ambiguity, to help figure out what works, and what doesn’t.

On the flip side, though, she shared that these traits are double-edged. When intellectual curiosity expands unchecked, distractions or scope creep may stifle progress and slow things down. With a team of doers, it is sometimes a challenge to keep people focused on the product at hand and not the new, “shiny” item that is coming down the pipeline next. She explained that in her experience, the controlled release of products may be frustrating for those who have their eye on the next project. To be sure, there are no shortages of ideas among Digital Hands staff, which is a good thing, and indeed, “you can do no wrong except to do nothing,” said Baker. “Even if four out of five ideas fail,” she assured, “one may still result in a big hit, and that’s considered a success in our environment.” 

When considering staffing, there may not be the largest or highest quality pool to draw from. Alford shared that from a security operations perspective, he considers this talent shortage an actual threat. While he agreed that many people are vying for posted positions, most do not have the skills, technological familiarity, and capabilities that are demanded. He shared that the company must, therefore, select the most mission-aligned individuals who pass the multi-tiered vetting approach and then invest in additional training to bring them up to speed. He shared that he also seeks people adept at pivoting between customers, and environments, which is not always easy to find.

Allen cited complacency as a major cyber threat to companies today.  Many organizations believe that the threat to their cyber integrity is either too large, complex, or expensive to face and, therefore, do nothing, becoming virtually complacent. Others go out and purchase security packages, some more sophisticated or expensive than others, but fail to implement them appropriately. In these cases, either they do not assign the correct talent to run the associated tools or simply don’t test either correctly or on the schedules and scopes most recommended.

Not surprisingly, Baker once again took a global view and cited the weaponization of AI as one of the greatest threats facing the cyber arena today: that and the role of humans in the overall value process.

One thing seems certain, however. Despite the proliferation of machine capability and achievement, the role of people on the human front, as innovators, puzzle solvers, and, yes, especially collaborators, is still key to Digital Hands’ success.