How to Break Down Silos In the Workplace

Silos are essential on farms, but less so in business organisations. Isolated teams pursuing individual goals lead to distrust and inefficiency, and prevent businesses from scaling. Below, we discuss how to break down organisational silos.

Picture a silo on a farm and you should have a good idea of what organisational silos look like: different, isolated teams pursuing individual goals that do not integrate with the rest of the organisation as a whole.

A silo mentality leads to individuals and teams withholding information from one another due to office politics, fear, inefficiency, or sheer incompetence—all of which can be destructive to a business. When teams are not aligned and information is not accessible, it leads to communication breakdowns and mistakes, and fosters complacency and distrust in your employees.

According to one study, 70% of customers support professionals and executives view silo mentality as the biggest obstacle to customer service and the biggest organisational hurdle to improving customer experience. Siloed businesses don’t just suffer internally—their customers suffer, too, which is bad news for your bottom line.

This being said, collaboration and cohesion are fundamental to scaling a business, and achieving them begins by breaking down organisational silos. Here’s how to do it.

Determine a unified vision

The most important step to breaking down silos is identifying your organisation’s goals—and this starts from the top.

Unify leaders

Employees on different teams are less likely to collaborate with one another unless they see their leaders do it first. Divisions within an organisation often set goals for their department, but they neglect to determine how those goals work towards the company’s unified goal.

When managers focus solely on accomplishing their team-specific goals, team members are similarly incentivised, thereby siloing the work they’re doing and creating resistance to sharing information between teams.

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On the other hand, when managers of different divisions focus on the unified vision, the objectives they establish for their team members shift from siloed objectives to ones that support that vision.

Those managers must understand the company’s long term goals and each department’s individual objectives so they can help team members break the “my department” mentality and adopt an “our organisation” mentality. You may just discover that teams can support one another’s individual goals, as well.

Company leaders can harbor collaboration and support the destruction of silos in the following ways:

  • set team goals in context with organisational goals;
  • assign a team member or two to keep other teams apprised of the work you’re doing;
  • regularly meet with leaders of other teams;
  • recognise and reward individuals who proactively collaborate with other teams.

Enhance communication

Once management is on board with a unified vision, team members will begin working towards that vision, too. But ensuring everyone understands the mission is one thing, whereas maintaining progress towards it is another.

Silos develop in the first place because teams specialise in different facets of running the business. Working towards a unified vision doesn’t mean you should abolish divisions within the company—it helps erode barriers of communication between teams so everyone can do their jobs better.

To keep teams on task and to promote collaboration, leaders should communicate the vision frequently and across all mediums so it remains top of mind. Do managers email a company-wide weekly update for their teams? Make sure those updates mention the vision. Have a regular company-wide meeting?

Discuss progress towards the vision. Managers can also check in on team members in scheduled one-on-ones or through internal communication systems like Slack to address concerns and gain constructive feedback about the broader vision.

Leadership can also take steps in the right direction by reducing the number or length of meetings, implementing cross-departmental training, and encouraging managers to collect constructive feedback from other teams.

By trimming waste and promoting communication, different teams will collaborate more, make better-informed decisions, and serve customers better based on feedback from the entire organisation.

Help everyone buy in

Organisational leaders will buy into breaking down silos first, and they’ll usher their teams along through consistent, collaborative communication. But to fire on all cylinders, you need everyone to buy in. How do you do it?

Shared accountability

A unifying vision must translate into the everyday actions of individuals. Managers will establish their team’s goals in the context of the primary mission, but an even more effective approach may be to set collaborative goals.

For instance, if the sales team seeks to generate 10,000 new leads this quarter, the marketing team may aim to reach 100,000 hits on customer-facing landing pages. Each of these goals supports a broader vision of increasing brand awareness and generating new business.

When teams have shared goals, they have shared accountability. Teams care about how they’re supporting one another because they’re connected by the same short-term and long-term goals. Nobody wants to fall short of goals, and nobody wants to be the reason another team missed their goals either.

MindTools phrases this shared accountability as “Who, What, Why, Where, When.”

  • Who are the people in the other department?
  • What does the other department do?
  • Why does the department exist in your organisation?
  • Where does the department work?
  • When do we need to involve a third (or more) department?
Silos in the workplace

Image: Unsplash

Shared investment

Most compensation plans reflect siloed organisations. Employee pay and benefits are determined independently and based on different goals and expectations. This sort of system does not incentivise employees to buy into the organisation as a whole.

When employees are encouraged through performance bonuses, titles, and recognition when they achieve organisation-wide goals, however, they’ll be more motivated to collaborate and cooperate.

If your unified vision is to revamp your company’s perception in the marketplace, you may want to improve the quality of your product. If that’s your goal, you may want to incentivise product development to weed out bugs, customer service to garner more positive reviews, partnerships to identify technology that can enhance your product, etc.

Those incentives may be monetary, but they also might just be a shoutout at an organisation-wide meeting, a new job title, or rewarding a team with a dinner on the company’s dime.

By fostering a cooperative, collaborative atmosphere and rewarding those who commit to organisation-wide goals, you amplify the shared investment employees feel in pursuing that mission. Everybody wants to be recognised for their work, after all.

Use technology

As you’ve no doubt noticed in your own life, technology makes it easy to stay on the same page with your friends and family. It’s no different in the workplace, where you can use new tools and platforms to break down silos in your organisation.

Collaboration tools

Thankfully, you don’t have to spam your team members with daily emails reminding them to collaborate. Digital collaboration tools make it easy for teams and individuals to share ideas and work towards goals regardless of where they work. Some examples include:

You may already have great collaboration tools in place and you haven’t even realised it yet. CRM software options like Salesforce are full of great collaborative features that provide full visibility into progress towards goals, overall company health, and more.

You’ll need to make sure, however, that everybody has a seat and knows how to use it. Training sessions may be necessary, as well as helpful.

This being said, a good CRM should also integrate with a variety of apps that simplify employee collaboration. Each team will need tools that are unique to their workflow and responsibilities, but if those tools integrate with your CRM, everyone gets a better visualisation of how teams are working towards their goals.

Measure everything

Everything in business is about data and, just like you track your revenue goals, you should measure your organisation’s success in breaking down silos. Track the progress toward that unified, communal goal that leadership set. Determine the most valuable metrics to your business and perform weekly check-ins on your progress.

If you want to promote collaboration, how many cross-departmental meetings occurred last week?

If you want to reduce waste, how many hours did you spend in meetings last week?

Every goal requires accountability and measurement to keep up the momentum. It’s on leadership to deliver that reinforcement and encourage team members to stay the course.

In Summary

Organisational silos result in lost productivity, mistakes, and can have negative effects on employee morale and your bottom line. Breaking down silos begins by setting a unified goal and getting everyone in the organisation to buy in. When you break down silos, your organisation will operate on a united front.

About the Author

Randa Kriss is a staff writer at Fundera, a marketplace for small business financial solutions. Randa writes extensively on human resource solutions, and has also written dozens of reviews on payroll services and ecommerce solutions.

Team 6Q

Team 6Q