As businesses continue to expand globally and distributed teams become the norm, collaboration has become essential to success. Managers and employees are spending 50% more time in collaborative activities. In response to these trends, organizations have been rushing to bring on as many collaborative tools as possible. While many of these tools have helped organizations work better, we’re starting to see diminishing returns.

The wrong tools for the job

The proliferation of tools hasn’t just slowed down the output of work — it’s brought it to a near standstill. In one survey of 5000 workers at 22 global companies, fewer than 44% said they knew where to find the information they need for their day-to-day work. The average enterprise company uses over 900 cloud applications to manage its processes, and 59% of workers say the number of tools they use to work has increased in the past year, according to Symantec. 68% of workers switch apps 10 times an hour or more and waste a full hour a day in app switching.

In an effort to cut costs or reduce the friction of change, companies try to keep inefficient tools and systems in place, even if better options are available. They augment or repurpose existing solutions with custom add-ons, patches, or other quick fixes. Elaborate and rigid processes have to be created to get piecemeal systems to function properly. These ad-hoc solutions can grow so complex that it becomes nearly impossible to upgrade or swap out any individual part without risking the collapse of the entire system. What was once intended to enable teams to work together more effectively can easily become the shackles that slow momentum and innovation.

In today’s environment, moving slowly is more than just a disadvantage — it’s a serious threat that can take down your company. Below are 6 of the most common threats organizations face because of inefficient tools and processes, along with specific ways to fix them based on our experience with over 19,000 leading organizations worldwide.

The 6 biggest threats caused by inefficient tools and processes and how to fix them

1. Data silos

Problems are inevitable when different departments within a company manage customer or company data in multiple applications or databases. Because changes in one system or database don’t automatically carry over to the others, multiple versions of the same account or file are created with no clear answers as to which is the most up to date. Human error is common as teams try collaborating across fragmented systems. As the amount of data that’s collected increases over time, the problems created by data silos compound.

How to fix it:

  • Adopt a single source of truth: Posting work, updates, and related communication in one place drastically reduces miscommunication and gives everyone more clarity on what’s being accomplished. Cloud-based solutions help prevent teams from working with outdated data or creating version-control issues with files.
  • Use flexible work management solutions: Identify what each person and/or team needs from their tools. By understanding the needs of each person and team and the type of work they’re doing, you can pick the solution that works best for all of them. For example, Wrike offers 9 different views so each team can find the one that fits their needs.
  • Leverage automation and APIs to connect systems: Use integrations to tie together as many of your existing tools as possible to increase clarity while still allowing people to use the apps they like best. A flexible API can help your organization customize tools for very specific uses, unlocking incredible value. Automation can be used to reduce or eliminate the manual entry of data and move data between systems.

2. Fog of War

Leading companies are careful to make use of critical insights that come from the frontlines. When executives have relevant insights at their fingertips, they are able to make much more impactful decisions. On the battlefield, a lack of situational awareness is referred to as the “fog of war.” Inefficient tools and processes create visibility gaps that make it difficult for company leadership to spot roadblocks, prioritize activity, and assess progress.

How to fix it:

  • Adopt a collaborative work management solution: Collaborative work management tools align people across teams and distances, improve the quality and consistency of work, reduce miscommunication and waste, and provide everyone greater visibility.
  • Use dashboards and custom statuses to monitor progress: It’s critical that the entire team can see how projects are progressing and how the organization is moving towards goals. Custom statuses add more clarity to what’s being accomplished. Shared dashboards are an easy way to keep people up to date on projects and in alignment with next steps.
  • Make use of reports to quickly give the C-suite a lay of the land: Instead of spending hours gathering data and crunching numbers, take advantage of automated reports to quickly visualize all work statuses and progress in an easy-to-digest format. This gives company leadership the visibility and insight necessary to make more impactful and strategic decisions.

3. Duplicate work

When parts of the organization make new discoveries or learnings without a way to convey them to the rest of the org, duplication of effort is common. In addition to the wasted time and resources, duplicate work can confuse teams and undermine the importance of process. International organizations that have teams separated across geographic areas or have cultural or language differences are especially prone to this problem.

How to fix it:

  • Improve internal communication: Don’t use meetings for status updates — that’s what your project management platform is for. Instead, use meetings to discuss items that need further conversation or exploration such as strategic direction, issues open to debate or exploration, refinements to process or deliverables, systemic problems that impact multiple team members, and any new learnings that could benefit the org as a whole.
  • Make sure task owners are clearly identified: At the start of a project, everyone should be clear on who is the decision maker, approver, stakeholder, etc. For repetitive work, set up approvals and communications that reinforce the workflow.
  • Share learnings: Set up opportunities for teams to share insights, not only amongst themselves but across departments.

4. Infighting

With no visibility or accountability, teams can get protective of their data. The data silos mentioned earlier cause teams to compete with each other for resources and power rather than focusing on delivering a unified customer experience. The inconsistencies this infighting cause results in a loss of brand credibility and trust and create a negative work environment.

How to fix it:

  • Nest goals and common OKRs: Start with an overarching company goal, and under that, nest department-wide goals. Below those, list goals for each subteam and then finally, drill down into individual goals. Having this nested structure empowers every employee and every team to look at their work and see how it impacts the larger picture. They can easily go up and down the ladder to see how their individual work fits into team goals, department goals, and even company-wide objectives.
  • Improve visibility: Making these nested goals known to everyone in the org provides visibility into what work is actually being accomplished and fosters a sense of true collaboration. Seeing how each individual’s work connects to the whole adds meaning to the work and inspires all to work in unison to achieve common objectives.
  • Get management working together: Forbes lists “conflicted leadership” as the number 1 reason why silos exist. Managers and leaders should set the tone for breaking down silos, sharing information, and collaborating effectively.

5. Roadblocks and Bottlenecks

Most companies are able to move fast when they decide on a new tactic or strategy. The problems arise when a suitable solution or process is found. They lock into that process, optimize it, and abandon their search for alternatives. Over time, the process or solution may lose effectiveness and may even be creating roadblocks. Due to a lack of visibility, companies may be completely unaware of these bottlenecks. Even if they do spot them, a lack of communication or accountability may prevent the situation from being rectified in an effective manner.

How to fix it:

  • Audit your processes: Regularly evaluate your processes as a team to ensure their efficiency, and encourage the exploration of new tools and methods periodically. When a process is mapped out and everyone on the team understands each component and how they fit together, they can begin to identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Adopt a growth mindset: Adopting a growth mindset can help your team embrace failure and persist in the face of setbacks. People with a growth mindset believe their talents can be developed and that new skills can be learned. Not everyone is born with a growth mindset, but it can be taught. When an entire company adopts this way of thinking, little can hold the organization back from reaching their goals and objectives. Any obstacles are seen as temporary, and solutions can and will be discovered.
  • Cultivate divergent thinking: Divergent thinking is focused on opening up problems, exploring possibilities, and enlarging perspectives. Having a healthy mix of divergent and convergent thinkers on your team can push your organization to experiment and innovate.

6. Technical overhead

New tools, devices, and processes are added as an organization requires more functionality. While it may be functional and necessary in the short term, it adds complexity that has the potential to become a risk and weakness. Every single-point or overly specialized solution an organization adopts increases the amount of “technical overhead” and cost it will take to upgrade or update the system. If the providers of those solutions are slow to update their software, organizations are prevented from moving forward due to the dead weight.

How to fix it:

  • Adopt a solution that works both vertically and horizontally: Companies no longer have to choose between shallow collaboration tools that work horizontally across departments, or specialized vertical solutions that silo teams. Enterprise collaboration tools have developed to provide a greater breadth and depth of communication functionality with capabilities like dashboards and reporting, while connecting workflows across function-specific tools via APIs and integrations. Selecting a flexible solution that can replace and connect multiple apps is the most efficient way to reduce technical overhead.
  • Automate data flows: Inputting data into a work management solution can feel like a chore and a waste of time for busy teams. Use templates to drastically reduce the time it takes to create and manage repeatable tasks and projects. Use automation as much as possible in your workflows to allow your team to focus on more high-impact work. Request forms are a great way to provide consistency to work intake, saving your team from tracking down critical details that delay project starts.
  • Leverage APIs to connect to all other apps: Your collaborative work management tool should bring order to the chaos by serving as the “single source of truth.” Plug in as many of your existing tools as possible to increase clarity while still allowing people to use the apps they like best. A flexible API can help your organization customize tools for very specific uses, unlocking incredible value.

Customizable and Configurable Tools Fuel Consistent Growth

Leading companies understand how big of a liability inefficient tools and inflexible processes really are. The answer is not more technology — it’s making better choices. Customizable and configurable tools along with flexible processes can help your organization accomplish more without sacrificing consistency or quality.

Interested in learning how top companies are using flexible tools and processes to achieve more? Download our latest ebook to see how companies like Unbounce, Pendo, BMind, and Frontline Education are achieving consistent growth using customizable tools and flexible processes.

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