With 39% of employees surveyed saying there is a lack of cross-functional collaboration within their organization, chances are, you’re currently working in silos or have experienced this in your career.
Given that nearly 3 out of 4 of us believe that teamwork and collaboration are very important, it begs the question, why do silos happen if we innately understand the importance of collaboration among colleagues? In this article, we will dive into the definition of working in silos and silo mentality, the harmful impact silos can have on an organization, and the steps you can take to eliminate them.
What Does Working in Silos Mean?
Working in silos also referred to as the silo effect or organizational silos, is when teams or departments isolate themselves from each other, forgo little to all collaboration, and consider their personal goals over those of the organization.
What Is a Silo Mentality?
Silo mentality is when an individual, team, or department has the attitude that they need to protect their knowledge and resources from others in the organization, resulting in behaviors and actions that create workplace silos. A silo mentality can be seen in such behaviors as hoarding resources, withholding information, unwillingness to work with others, and putting one's needs and goal achievement above that of the organization.
The Negative Impact of Working in Silos
When an organization finds itself working in silos, there can be severe negative consequences of doing so, including:
- Poor Decision-Making: Leaders do not have all the relevant information and input from other teams to make sound decisions.
- Decreased Productivity: Individuals and teams waste time duplicating efforts on activities others have already completed. It was found that a lack of collaboration and communication costs companies in North America approximately 7 hours a week, which works out to more than 350 hours a year!
- Workplace Culture Suffers: A toxic work environment can start to form due to a silo mentality and its negative behaviors. These behaviors take root and begin to permeate the company to create a new, less-than-desirable culture.
- Added Stress at Work: When employees don’t have the information they need to do their job, it can create stressful working conditions and, over the long run, burnout. It was found that 80% of US employees feel stressed at work due to a lack of communication.
- Company Goals Go Unmet: By the very nature of workplace silos, alignment and focus on achieving the overall corporate goals dissolves as teams are focused solely on their own achievement.
- Customer Feel It: The customer experience suffers when an organization works in silos. Departments cannot get the information they need for a client, issues go unresolved, and innovation and process improvements are stifled as customer feedback is not relayed.
- Turnover Rises: Employees begin to look for new opportunities when there are silos in an organization. For instance, one study uncovered that companies that collaborate and communicate effectively are 4.5x more likely to retain their very best employees.
7 Ways to Break a Silo Mentality
Given the negative impact a silo mentality can have, many leaders are looking for ways to eliminate organizational silos. To get you started, here are seven ways to get on a path of better alignment, more frequent communication, more seamless knowledge sharing, and overall better collaboration.
- Be honest about the current reality
- Start at the top
- Set expectations of changed behaviors
- Set up formal channels of communication
- Invest in team-building
- Implement centralized tools
- Continually reinforce the vision
1. Be honest about the current reality
Real change can only occur when we identify and come to terms with the behaviors leading to a silo mentality and organizational silos that are not serving anyone. Start by determining what these attitudes and behaviors are and why they’re happening.
2. Start at the Top
Often, a silo mentality arises due to competition, disagreements, and mistrust between functional leaders. When issues start at the top, they quickly spread down the hierarchy to teams and individuals. For silos to ever go away, it requires a commitment to change from the top first, which may require changing incentives, goals, and metrics for senior leaders.
3. Set expectations of changed behaviors
Breaking down internal silos and a silo mentality requires outlining, communicating, coaching, and training against the new expectations of what behaviors are required now and what old behaviors must be eliminated. To help individuals understand the new expectations and adopt the needed behavior, investing in training focusing on building collaboration, building relationships, and communication skills should be part of the plan.
4. Set up formal channels of communication
Increasing communication is a pillar needed to eliminate silos. To facilitate knowledge sharing and ensure it happens, set up formal communication channels such as scheduled staff meetings and monthly update reports. These recurring activities requiring departments and teams to share their knowledge and updates are vital components to dissolving silos.
5. Invest in team-building
Hosting a company event where employees across the organization have a shared team experience is a great way to break down silos, build relationships, and promote cross-functional connections. When sourcing team-building activities, look for ones like those offered by Niagara Institute that use experiential learning, where the lessons on the importance of eliminating silos and increasing collaboration are embedded in a fun experience that comes to life through an engaging debrief.
6. Implement Centralized Tools
When departments use different software for data and communication, it creates technology-enabled workplace silos where it is difficult for individuals to find and share information needed to do their job. Microsoft uncovered that 86% of respondents agreed that a single, centralized platform is needed to make it easier to communicate, access, share, and work together on data across the company.
7. Continually Reinforce the Vision
The simple act of continually sharing the company vision can help bring teams and departments together. When individuals and teams are reminded of the big-picture, the company's purpose, and what they’re working towards becoming, they become aligned and united in making the vision the future reality.