Every successful organization thrives on effective communication and transparency. Without proper communication and honesty (just like in any personal relationship), working partnership, employee productivity, and collaboration will tend to suffer. As a result, projects will get delayed, objectives won’t get achieved, and worse, there will be strife between working teams and/or individual team members.
Beyond just coming up with regular weekly meetings, having great leaders, and annual team-building getaways, it is important to address the main culprit behind why team members or individuals in an organization fail to collaborate effectively: the silo mentality.
What is the silo mentality?
Silo mentality is when different teams or team members in the same company purposely don’t share valuable information with other members of the company. This silo mindset hurts the unified vision of a business and deters long-term goals from being accomplished.
What are team silos and how do they happen?
A silo appears when a group of people doesn’t share information, goals, tools, priorities, or processes with other groups. This type of mindset presents challenges across the entire company, it also shows that the company doesn’t incentivize inclusivity among teams.
The dangers of working in silos
Isolated from each other, people separated by silos often do unnecessary, misaligned or duplicated work, which all prevent agility and adaptability and slow down the organization in general. This leads to poor decision making due to a lack of valuable information, a decline in customer experience and customer satisfaction, lower employee morale, and a toxic corporate culture.
Let’s take a look at common types of silos that exist within an organisation:
1. Partnership silos
Information silos can appear between separate companies working towards a shared goal. Some examples might be the relationship between the customer and the vendor, among a group of vendors, or between companies participating in shared social or investment projects. In this case, silos grow organically from the unique organizational processes that may not even consider customization for collaboration purposes.
Common reasons for partnership silos are security-restricted access, different workflow, limited time to meet in person and associated costs, as well as inconsistent notification on the progress of collaborative work.
2. Geographical silos
Geographical silos usually occur in widely distributed corporations when employees are spread across continents and countries. Time, language and cultural differences make it hard to coordinate mutual actions and adapt to changes. To avoid working in silos that are caused by the distributed nature of the team, it’s very important to share as much information as possible to maintain alignment.
Among the reasons behind geographical silos are language barriers, cultural gaps, poor connection, and/or limited access to equipment.
3. Departmental silos
Departmental silos can occur when many people are focused on intra-departmental work. When they need to work with other departments, there can be a lot of friction as people, processes and systems can all differ. It’s hard to align around common goals because methodologies, tools, and metrics depend on the field.
Among the causes of departmental silos are infrequent inter-departmental collaboration, lack of confidence among employees in implementing new methodologies, communication challenges, and differing team cultures.
4. Cross-functional team silos
The collaboration between developers, designers, and marketers is often seen as a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ — tons of tiny pieces of information have disappeared within this setup under mysterious circumstances.
Proud of their unique workflows, these roles can be resistant to transparency or patiently sharing their knowledge with others. At the same time, the dependency level in this triangle is high, so when one team member loses access to information or resources, the entire project may be delayed or even stop.
The main reasons behind the cross-functional team silos are the different tools used by each team, different tracking method preferences, and in the end, each role prefers specific tools to work with.
5. Hierarchy silos
Hierarchy silos separate higher-level employers from front-line workers; in big companies, the ownership of processes and information is often fragmented and guarded. Leveraging security access and attempting to focus people on what matters make both parties decontextualized from business goals and the corporate atmosphere. This problem usually leads to high turnover and bureaucracy, which further decreases the speed with which the company adapts to changes.
The main reasons behind hierarchy silos are the lack of management participation in smaller tactics, lack of transparency by the management in presenting the current state, lack of feedback received from top management, and security levels that create barriers between top management and their team.
Silo mentality often begins with management. Often, divisions within the organization set goals that benefit their department but conflict with the goals of another. Each manager is focused on accomplishing their specific goals, and that focus frequently incentivizes siloed information and creates resistance to sharing it across teams.
To break down the silo mentality, start by creating a unified vision of team collaboration and start working towards common goals using work collaboration tools. Finally, make sure that all departments get the time to learn, work and train together regularly. This would create a working bond and trust that’s stronger than what’s usually built over a team-building weekend together.