Last updated on 15th March 2023
Businesses work better when everyone pulls together in the same direction.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? However, when departments get bogged down in what they’re doing, they can quickly forget the bigger picture.
But we’re here to help.
In this article we’ll provide 9 easy easy ways to break down silos in your organisation, so knowledge can flow freely between teams.
What are silos in organisations?
Modern businesses are many-headed beasts. The bigger a company gets, the more departments it inevitably needs to run smoothly.
Each department will typically have its own remit and specialist knowledge.
But problems arise when individual departments within a business become so focussed on their own priorities that they lose track of the organisation’s wider needs; holding back information and expertise from their colleagues in the process.
This is known as a ‘silo mentality’.
How and why silo mentalities are formed
The silo mentality boils down to departments working towards different priorities and being reluctant – or even unwilling – to share critical information with colleagues from other departments within the same business.
This can inevitably lead to an ‘us and them’ environment, made up of disparate departmental factions.
These silos are far less likely to communicate and collaborate effectively with each other than if they simply worked together.
There are various reasons why a silo mentality may emerge within an individual or a department.
These include fear, internal power struggles, inefficiencies within the business, or simply a lack of understanding or willingness to share with others.
Often these types of issues don’t necessarily originate from a place of uncooperativeness.
They’re far more likely to be symptoms of poor communication, lack of awareness, and ingrained habits.
Pitfalls of a silo culture
Francis Bacon once said that ‘knowledge is power’.
Perhaps, but in an organisational sense this is only really the case if that powerful knowledge is shared around.
Ultimately, a silo mentality benefits no-one; neither individuals nor departments, and certainly not the business.
It can be hugely damaging to the efficient operations of a company.
This type of approach can breed mistrust, erode motivation, and undermine a company’s values.
Problems often don’t end there either. Silos can also lead to duplicated effort, uncoordinated (and therefore costly) systems, and a bottleneck of information through-flow that can make organisations less nimble and unlikely to make the smartest decisions.
At best, silos can lead to employee frustration and missed deadlines. At worst, they can lead to missed opportunities, institutional failures, and the eventual collapse of a business.
How to break down silos in your organisation
The most efficient and productive businesses understand the need to break down silos.
Forging strong inter-departmental relationships takes time and effort but the rewards are worth it.
The domino effect of one department getting to know another, taking time to understand their priorities – their role in the business and what makes them tick – can deliver compound benefits; both to those departments and the wider organisation.
With greater understanding comes more cohesive joint-working, mutual trust and respect, and a greater likelihood of sharing vital information in a timely and open manner.
This can improve efficiencies, spark innovative ideas and approaches, and ultimately motivate everyone involved through the realisation of achieving collective goals.
Time, effort and strong communication skills are all essential ingredients for eroding silos within an organisation.
Here are nine actionable strategies to break down silos effectively within your organisation.
1. Get executive buy-in
In order to break down silos, the impetus for change must come from the top down.
For any organisation to create a more inclusive, holistic approach, their leadership team must be completely on board from the outset.
Executive board members must understand and commit to the organisation’s long-term goals themselves before they start to engage and empower managers to recognise where their departments fit into the bigger picture.
2. Lead from the front
Getting managerial buy-in is essential.
No matter how enthusiastic an executive team might be about their shared organisational vision, if a manager is unconvinced then their scepticism will inevitably seep into their department.
When those managers recognise the worth of the overarching mission, they should be empowered to work with other managerial colleagues, and encourage members of their team to do the same with their peers.
3. Create a unified vision
At the heart of a silo mentality is the idea that everyone is ‘busy being busy’, working on their own objectives.
So one of the most effective ways to break down silos is to bring those departments together to agree a unified vision for the organisation as a whole.
With the buy-in of departmental managers, a shared organisational vision that’s then cascaded down to colleagues, can shift the focus and motivation back towards organisational goals.
4. Develop shared goals
It can be useful to break down the agreed company-wide vision into tangible, shared goals that cut across multiple departments.
For instance, it is rarely the sole responsibility of the sales team alone to drive online sales.
This would be a shared remit across several departments, such as marketing and IT. Having shared goals in place that unite several teams with a common cause can bring departments closer and make them more efficient.
5. Train together
Speaking of bringing departments together, another great way to get to bond with other colleagues and help them to collaborate more effectively is to involve them in joint training sessions.
If your organisation is committed to the continuing professional development of its staff, then why not kill two birds with one stone by rolling out cross-departmental training that not only upskills individuals but also reaffirms their role within the collective?
6. Use collaboration tools
Digital collaboration tools, like Project.co, can be extremely useful for uniting teams and encouraging collaboration. This is especially true when your staff work from home or in a hybrid office environment.
Project.co not only brings your various teams together, but it can also integrate your clients too; empowering you to break down silos that sometimes emerge between a provider and their clients.
7. Research other departments
Getting to know other departments in the business is a really simple – and obvious – way to break down silos.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to learn the names and roles of people in other departments.
Get to know what each department does and (crucially) doesn’t do, as well as how they fit into the bigger organisational picture.
Making a concerted effort can build trust and ensure that the right people are involved at the right time.
8. Bring teams together
As well as systemic and psychological barriers to collaboration, there are often physical barriers too.
The very fact that departments are contained in different offices, buildings, or even countries, can create a sense of distance between one another.
So it’s important to bring teams closer together.
Consider bringing teams with a similar remit (such as sales and marketing) into closer proximity or creating joint meetings to share ideas.
9. Exercise give-and-take
A major ingredient of collaborative working is give-and-take.
Remember that interdepartmental relationships are a two-way street. If you take more than you give, goodwill may quickly evaporate.
Although you’re working towards common organisational goals, other individuals and departments will have specific objectives and deadlines to meet.
Be mindful of these pressures and offer support, where appropriate, to strengthen relationships.
Organisational silos are by definition a barrier; a barrier to collaboration, communication, innovation, progress and growth.
Everything a business needs to succeed, in fact.
Recognising that there’s a problem is the first step towards finding a solution.
From thereon in, implementing some of these actionable tips and discovering your own specific strategies can help to break down silos and make your business a much more efficient, productive and inclusive place to work.
For more actionable tips and advice like this, head to our blog.