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A few quick tips to break down silos and connect your organization

As organizations grow, they become more complex. Maybe the founder of a plumbing company had 2 or 3 people that helped him get jobs done around down. With success over time, the employee count has ballooned to 75. There is an accounting department to manage all the finances. There is a team of project managers making sure that every project is staffed, on budget, and on time. And of course there are work crews executing out on the job site. As these groups develop, there is often a separation that develops between the different departments of an organization—organizational silos.  

Oftentimes, these silos seem positive. Each department is able to focus on their responsibilities and not worry about anyone else. But this is exactly where the problem lies. As the different departments become disconnected, several negative effects can begin to spread throughout the organization. We recently covered the impacts of disconnected teams, but here let's focus specifically on the impacts of organizational silos:

Relational Breakdown

Silos tend to create negative relationships between groups, as well as create tension on manager-employee relationships. As distrust grows, different departments will pull back into their comfort zone, and begin to feel a growing competition with other departments instead of a common pursuit of goals.  

Goal Confusion

Speaking of goals, as different silos prioritize their own objectives it is almost impossible for them to maintain a focus on the larger organizational goals. Imagine your sales team completely stops thinking about how many new clients your work teams can handle, prioritizing only their sales goals. Your work teams become overloaded and consequently their work and the company’s reputation begins to suffer.

Communication Breakdown

As your teams become more siloed, the lack of communication between departments can cause a host of issues. From not sharing important information about customer experience to not communicating the unexpected costs at a jobsite—efficiency and profitability will suffer.  

Turf Wars

With communication lacking, a sense of mistrust, lacking relationship, and no alignment with organizational goals, silos often drive turf wars where different teams are competing with each other for resources, promotions, and recognition. This is not a healthy environment for any organization. In-fighting can tear apart an organization.  

Silos are a divisive force within your organization. If you aren't convinced, here are some cold hard facts on silo impact throughout businesses in the U.S.

  • 48% of companies consider ineffective communication their biggest hurdle
  • The average team loses 6 whole weeks a year in productivity due to silos
  • For every 200 employees working with customers, there are $1.5 million in labor costs lost annually [1]  

But what can you do to prevent them from ever being built in the first place? Or, if they already exist, how can you tear them down? Here are 3 tips for each of those scenarios:

Preventing Silos

1. Communication is Key

The fact of the matter is, you can’t have an effective and connected team without communication. Communication helps with the spread of most recent information, as well as providing touch points for projects that can help the different departments work in flow with each other. While meetings and face to face communication are necessary, the biggest tip here is to leverage technology to make communication more seamless.  

As many offices have substantial portions of their team working remotely, and some trades like construction or plumbing will have team members out on site, technology allows for communication that spans these challenges. There are centralized communications apps like Slack or Microsoft teams that can allow for conferencing, messages, file transfer and team chats that keep things flowing smoothly. One other element that technology can facilitate is an environment where members of the company can talk to anyone else at any level within the organization, from management to their peers. This can help to create a culture with open communication, missional alignment, and the ability to share ideas and collaborate efficiently.  

2. Missional Alignment

If one of the biggest consequences of silos is the loss of clarity on organizational goals, then it is logical that keeping your people aligned with your mission from the top to the bottom of the organization can be a powerful tool to combat silos.

Aligning your teams with the organization starts by making sure that you have a clear mission and objectives. Then it needs to be communicated effectively so that each member of the organization understands organizational goals, why the goals are what they are, how the goals will be achieved, and (perhaps most importantly) how each team will contribute to meeting goals.  

Feel free to check out this post on how to get your teams aligned, but foundationally everything starts by clearly defining who your organization is, why it exists, and then communicating that with your departments regularly and effectively. Aligned teams are far less likely to retreat into silos.  

3. Lead by Example

Without mincing our words, let’s be very clear about something—leadership sets the tone in preventing disconnected silos in the workplace. Naturally this starts at the very top, with leadership sharing a unified vision and being proactive to share resources and information to further the organizational goals. However, it is also vital that mid-level managers and senior level employees be bought in. The unity and commitment of your leaders throughout the organization will go a long way toward shifting your culture to become more collaborative and mission oriented, instead of retreating into a “my team comes first” mentality.  

Tearing Down Silos

If you look around your organization, and silos already exist, it's not too late. Here are three quick tips to start breaking down silos, and opening up collaboration.  

1. Start Getting Cross-Functional

If you are noticing silos developing between departments, get proactive about tearing them down by building cross-functional bridges. One way to do this is to establish cross-functional liaisons. Make it someone's primary responsibility to ensure that communication is encouraged between departments through meetings, centralized communication software, and other touch points. This will facilitate departments communicating vital information on progress and allow them to communicate what support they need from other departments in the organization.

[Text Wrapping Break]Another strategy is to conduct cross-functional training. While you want your people to be focused on what they are good at, and spend their hours in that niche, it is important to build empathy for their peers in the organization. Training your people on skills that other departments require can help them get a clearer understanding of their colleagues' daily challenges and give them insight into what resources and information could be valuable to share.  

2. Identify Problematic Mindsets

While some silos are created by the structuring of an organization, they are primarily a mindset. As your team members start to have an “us-vs-them” mentality or and mindset that puts their team first over everything else, silos will develop and solidify. Carefully examine your leadership teams and identify people with problematic mindsets that discourage collaboration, communication, and cross-functional team work. These mindsets can create cynicism and resentment between departments and do long-term harm to your organization. Try to shift their mindset back toward your mission and organizational objectives, but if that doesn’t work, you may have to replace them if you are serious about breaking down the silos in your company.

3. Break the Boundaries

The silos in your organization are held in place by boundaries. They could be geographical boundaries—one team operates in office, while one is primarily on-site. You could create opportunities for office teams to go on-site to gain perspective and facilitate understanding and create regular touchpoints between geographically separate teams to tear down these geographical boundaries. You could have boundaries across company hierarchies, departments and job functions. One way to combat this is with summits—collaborative work and communication settings that bring together employees across a range of departments to communicate, collaborate on ideas, and develop relationships. These are just a few ideas to break down boundaries that allow for silos, examine your organization and get creative!  

These tips are just the start. At the end of the day, silos within an organization are as unique as the organization they exist in. Leadership will need to examine their company, their mission, and themselves and come up with an attack plan to proactively prevent their teams from becoming disconnected. If you have any questions about silos, team dynamics, or anything else we are covering on the blog, we would love to chat. Just click here to get in touch.

  1. Morris, T. (2020). 7 statistics that show what communication silos are costing companies. Business 2 Community. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.business2community.com/communications/7-statistics-that-show-what-communication-silos-are-costing-companies-02341405