“Nothing kills ‘one team one goal’ thinking like silos” (John G Miller – author of QBQ)
A Silo Mentality is defined as “A mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture” (The Business Dictionary).
Whilst it is quite natural to relate best to members of your own team – and critical to combine energy to achieve the team’s goals – a sole inward focus creates an insular attitude or sometimes competitive spirit which could work against the company achieving its best results. Miscommunication and constant rehashing of issues and decisions between collaborative teams might be indicators of the formation of destructive silos. Some of these presenting problems include (Sarah Laoyan: 6 Tips for Breaking Down Business Silos):
- Unnecessary status updates and meetings: If teams can’t access the information they need, then they always need to connect with others to get information. This results in more meetings, which leaves less time for those team members to spend on important work that helps achieve business goals.
- Duplicative work: When cross-collaborative teams don’t communicate effectively, there’s a chance that both teams are doing the same work. This is a waste of time, energy, and resources that can cost your company a lot of money.
- Team competitiveness: While some friendly competition can help increase productivity, unnecessary competitiveness can cause teams to become antagonistic towards each other. This can cause tension and conflict, which creates a hostile work environment.
- Unscalable foundations: If roadblocks keep popping up because of individual team processes, it’s very possible that departmental silos caused this problem. If you’re looking to scale workflows, teams need to work cross-collaboratively and support each other so that both teams have a unified vision on a specific initiative.
Laoyan goes on to suggest that “silos typically form as a function of the tools you use—not the people who use them. Most tools are organised in what we call a container data model, which governs how the tool organises and stores information. Essentially, these tools require us to organise information in a one-to-one relationship.” A container data model uses one-to-one relationships to organise project work. Essentially, it’s a data model in which a unit of work can only live in one place—for example, your team has a folder, and your team’s work lives in that folder. We call this data model a “container model” because every piece of work falls into a single “container.” And, while the container data model is simple to implement, it doesn’t allow for dynamic projects or cross-functional teamwork.
As the realisation of company targets requires one-to-many, and not one-to-one, relationships, cross-functional collaboration needs to be fostered. This can be achieved by (as suggested by the Indeed Editorial Team):
- Establishing the organisation’s vision – an organisation’s “big picture” and accompanying vision statement defines its purpose and what it hopes to achieve. Creating a shared vision for the entire organisation can help break down silos between different groups and encourage a large team mentality. Instead of focusing on what their respective departments need to achieve, managers and employees can understand how they can contribute to the organisation’s ongoing growth and success. The company’s leaders can meet with managers to discuss and establish this vision. During these conversations, they may identify long-term goals the company aims to achieve and the role each department plays in those efforts.
- Clarifying common goals – objectives play an essential role in an organisation’s vision statement. These long-term goals can serve as a unifying force for the organisation’s employees. When silos exist, each department develops its own goals and objectives based on its wants or needs. As a result, these goals may not always align with the goals of another department. By establishing and promoting common goals, each department can instead think about what it needs to do to support them.
- Providing incentives – employees with a silo mentality may sometimes focus on achieving their immediate needs rather than the organisation’s ongoing goals. Leaders can use incentives and other motivational tools to further break down such silos. These incentives can encourage employees to go beyond their typical or required tasks and take part in activities that help the company meet its objectives.
- Promoting cross-departmental collaboration – organisations can break down silos between departments by encouraging or requiring them to work together on projects. These projects provide specific goals for different departments to work toward together. This collaboration also promotes the sharing of resources, information, and knowledge across various areas of the business. It also enables employees to understand others’ roles within the company, and they may use these insights to improve future projects or processes.
- Assigning cross-departmental liaisons – leaders may find it helpful to assign liaison roles for cross-departmental projects. These individuals can help establish communication between the collaboration partners to keep the project on target. For example, they may organise regular meetings with members from each department to gather progress updates and identify challenges. The liaison can take notes and ensure the information gets shared with all relevant stakeholders. If conflicts arise, they may also act as a mediator to maintain a respectful partnership. When one department identifies a roadblock created by another, the liaison can listen to each side and develop a solution that supports everyone.
- Implementing cross-departmental training programmes – leaders may host these programmes with the entire organisation or in groups to encourage future collaboration between specific departments. These events can help individuals get to know one another better, both personally and professionally. They can also help practising teamwork skills, such as effective communication.
- Encouraging meaningful communication – encouraging open, honest, and regular communication throughout the organisation can help different departments and individuals feel more comfortable interacting. It can also prompt more socialisation amongst diverse groups.
- Using collaboration tools – leaders can make it easier for departments and individuals to communicate across the organisation by implementing collaboration tools and software. These tools can cover a wide variety of business needs, such as communication. Instant messaging tools enable individuals to communicate across different departments or floors of an office without having to leave their desks. Remote organisations benefit from using virtual meeting software to provide face-to-face interactions and keep employees connected despite the physical barriers.
- Reducing physical barriers – silos within an organisation can sometimes be physical. If departments or employees never see one other, it can make it more difficult for them to interact. When possible, organisations may consider restructuring their offices to make them feel more open. Some organisations use fully open layouts with no partitions, walls or other barriers separating employees’ workspaces. This layout can allow everyone to see and understand what their colleagues do at work and communicate easily.
- Monitoring ongoing progress – after taking steps to break down silos, leaders monitor and evaluate the results. Depending on the goals they set, they may have measurable data that shows whether the organisation is meeting key metrics more effectively since implementing silo-breaking efforts. If the results are less than desirable, leaders may need to identify ways to further reduce or eliminate divisions within the organisation to promote collaboration and communication.
Encouraging cross-collaboration between teams brings you one step closer to creating a more efficient workforce. This is achieved by creating opportunities for team members to focus less on the back-and-forth of project management, and more on the important work needed to achieve their goals.