Organizational silos: 4 common issues and how to prevent them

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshotSarah LaoyanNovember 14th, 20226 min read
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Summary

Organizational silos are teams of people who are isolated from other parts of your business due to a minimized flow of information. In this article, we discuss a few ways you can organize your team to prevent silos from forming.

Enterprises are often organized by specific team function. This is known as an organizational structure, and it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Without the proper tools and integrations, segmenting your enterprise by function can create organizational silos. While strong organizational silos can cause communication issues, silos are not an inherently bad part of business. 

What is an organizational silo?

An organizational silo is a team, department, or group of people that are segmented from the flow of information from other parts of your business. This can happen both intentionally and unintentionally. Organizational silos typically occur because different teams create unique processes and use their own specific tools to complete their work. This means that your engineering team’s workflow will look different than your marketing team’s work. Inadvertently, these teams end up siloed off from one another.

Silos can also happen to specific individuals. When an individual member of an organization holds essential information about a team or organization, this can contribute to a silo mentality. Silo mentality is a mindset where individuals or teams don’t share knowledge with one another, which can cause communication issues and make collaboration difficult. Most of the time, individuals don’t intentionally become silos. This often happens when small teams start to expand—the most tenured individual on the team can become the information silo if the team doesn’t standardize and document processes.

There are a few ways organizational silos can form, some of which are intentional, and some not. Here are a few examples of common organizational silos:

  • Departmental silo: This is when one department is siloed off from one another. Because enterprises are commonly organized by job function, this is the most common organizational silo. 

  • Rank or level silo: This kind of silo occurs when individuals or teams withhold strategy, goals, or other important information from team members above or below them in level.

  • Location silo: These silos are created when teams are segmented by different office locations. Individuals who work together in the same office may share information in-person or ad hoc, and forget to share with others in different locations. 

  • Schedule silo: For teams that work different shifts or different hours, information silos can exist based on which shift a team member is on. New information could be conveyed to those working the day shift, but not to members working on the night shift.

Can silos be good for business?

Silos are not inherently bad for business—it’s important to provide organizational structure for different departments. Good silos can help contribute to a positive company culture, effective communication, and more efficient working practices. 

However, silos can be negatively reinforced through turf wars, unclear vision, and a lack of communication. This can lead to decreased interactions with necessary teams, duplicative work, and resistance to change. If this is the case, it’s important for you to break down silos and bridge a connection between the two teams.

No more silos: Optimizing your organizational structure for stronger cross-team collaboration

In this free ebook, learn how to structure your organization to prevent silos, move faster, and stay aligned in the face of change.

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What causes organizational silos?

Organizational silos can form in a variety of different ways. Here are a few ways they form and solutions on how you can break silos down to encourage more collaboration in the workplace.

Silo mentality within leadership

When team leaders have a silo mentality, this attitude can trickle down to their direct reports. Leading by example is infectious, and if their leader has negative judgments about a certain team, it can quickly affect the rest of their direct reports. This contributes to unnecessary competition, miscommunications, and a more hostile work environment.

How to fix this: When working with leadership teams, be sure to establish clear, company-wide goals. This provides leaders with a clear idea of what the end-goal is—and how their specific team’s goals contribute to one part of a larger picture. In this design, it’s easier to understand how each team is responsible for a small part of the bigger picture and why they need to work together. The focus is on accomplishing a larger goal instead of competing against each other.

No set processes for cross-team collaboration

Without centralized tooling, each team will adopt their own tools and processes to complete their work. This is fine for working internally within a specific department, but can cause challenges when working cross-functionally. External teams don’t necessarily have the same process, so this can cause an information silo.

Without a central system of record, there’s no way for cross-functional teams to share information or communicate with others. Teams lose information across different communication platforms and miscommunication. This can lead to missed deadlines, lost documentation, and duplicative work.

How to fix this: Establish a central system of record through a work management platform. If your team currently has no set processes for communication, be sure to implement change management best practices to ensure that everyone in your organization understands how to use the platform. Once your work management platform is implemented, be sure to include training on how to use the platform when onboarding new employees. This sets expectations for what communication goes where, and how teams collaborate.

Exclusively extrinsic incentives

Establishing incentives is a common way to encourage team members to reach towards a common goal. But if the work the incentive encourages doesn’t align with company goals, team members could be contributing solely for the incentive. 

For example, imagine a leader establishes an incentive for a marketing team. The team lead tells team members that they’ll receive a small bonus for every sign-up they receive on a specific webinar. While this sounds like a good way to encourage new sign-ups, team members can game the system by encouraging as many people to sign-up for the webinar, regardless of how qualified they are. This form of extrinsic motivation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be the only motivation your team should have. 

How to fix this: If implementing a form of extrinsic motivation like an incentive, ensure they are specific enough to connect to overarching company goals. It’s also important to encourage your team’s individual intrinsic motivation—if you see team members show interest in a certain project or work, be sure to foster that curiosity and encourage their interests.

Siloed goals

A team that doesn’t have a common goal is like a boat in open water without any form of locating equipment. Without a common goal, individual departments develop individual strategies without collaborating with other teams. This lack of big picture thinking causes duplicative work, inefficient processes, and a disorganized working environment.

How to fix this: Establish team goals and clearly indicate how they ladder up into larger company goals. The best way to do this is to use collaboration tools that connect the work your team completes to company goals. 

No more silos: Optimizing your organizational structure for stronger cross-team collaboration

In this free ebook, learn how to structure your organization to prevent silos, move faster, and stay aligned in the face of change.

Optimizing your organizational structure for stronger cross-team collaboration ebook banner image

5 tips for organizing your company to prevent silos

Here are a few tips you can use to help organize your company in a way that prevents harmful silos and encourages cross-collaborative communication. 

1. Boost transparent communication

One of the easiest ways to break down organizational silos is to simply build a bridge with clear communication. When this starts with the leadership team, the entire organization has a good example of how the flow of information should go, how team collaboration works, and how the organizational culture contributes to achieving goals. When the leadership team leads by example, their direct reports will mimic their behavior. The more people who communicate effectively in your organization, the better.

2. Encourage regular cross-collaboration

If you want your team to be comfortable working and connecting with teams outside their own, make sure that they have opportunities to do that. Establish cross-functional tiger teams for specific projects, or regularly connect with cross-functional partners to ensure that bonds stay strong. Create best practices for how to communicate with other departments and lay the foundation for a long-lasting partnership. 

3. Establish one consistent system of record

One of the easiest ways to ensure your different teams are sharing information is to establish one central system of record. When everyone has access to the different work that cross-functional teams are working on, it’s much harder for silos to form. This kind of transparency helps cross-collaborative teams better strategize their work together.

4. Connect work to measurable goals

It’s not just about setting goals, it’s about setting goals that your team can actually achieve. Make sure to use measurable goal setting techniques like SMART goals or OKRs so that cross-collaborative team leaders can create complementary strategies and prevent duplicative work. Once goals are set, connect the work your team completes to those measurable results. By directly connecting your team’s work to those measurable goals, you can help them understand how their work matters. 

5. Institute a system of checks and balances

No one team should have control in decision making—establish ways for teams that commonly work together to have some checks and balances, so there isn’t a monopoly on decision making. While not a common occurrence, it is possible for one team to dominate over another if they have more resources, or a higher stake in the matter. One way to ensure that everyone has a say regardless of what team they are on is to use group decision making techniques.

Bridge organizational silos to increase productivity

Increase cross-functional collaboration and optimize your organizational structure to help teams stay aligned. That way, teams can focus less on duplicative work and managing interpersonal relationships between teams, and more on the knowledge work that’s required to hit your goals. 

No more silos: Optimizing your organizational structure for stronger cross-team collaboration

In this free ebook, learn how to structure your organization to prevent silos, move faster, and stay aligned in the face of change.

Optimizing your organizational structure for stronger cross-team collaboration ebook banner image

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