Breaking down silos at work

Silo mentality can creep in at various levels and cause teams to distrust each other, and refuse to cooperate or share information, impeding progress at large

Rajeev Shroff
Updated: Mar 7, 2019 11:09:58 AM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

All businesses have hierarchies to facilitate the division of work. A decentralised system is efficient as it comprises departments with required expertise in respective fields. However, the same system that vouches for smooth functioning can also create issues in the giant machinery of an organisation.

Often, ‘silo mentality’ creeps in at several levels and establishes itself as an integral part of multi-departmental functionality. It is estimated that about 70 percent of executives see silo mentality a major obstacle in achieving goals. But what exactly is it and how does it impede progress?

We have seen tall structures used to store grains. These installations remain isolated with no windows or access to the materials kept inside. This serves as a perfect analogy to the way things operate between teams with a silo mentality.

Departments with such a mindset hesitate to co-operate and deny access to information to other teams. They limit themselves to the obligations of their respective unit. When individuals work towards fulfilling only their immediate responsibilities, they fall short of achieving overall success. Most importantly, they miss the opportunity of being instrumental in cross-departmental accomplishments.

Businesses succeed by overcoming obstacles, no matter how massive the challenge. In the enterprise industry, where change is the only rule, organisations constantly make informed, data-driven decisions to stay ahead. Clearly, the lack of information exchange and data assessment causes organisations to lose a prominent edge when seizing opportunities for growth and expansion.

The reasons for such a ‘tunnel-vision’ approach may be unclear, although the symptoms become conspicuous over time. Power complexes, mistrust, inefficiency, and general incongruity have disastrous consequences with far-reaching effects. Organisations are forced to spend excess resources to achieve their goals in the absence of collated effort and cross-department collaboration.

Fortunately, there are several ways to prevail over silo-mentality and instil greater compatibility between teams. We list some strategies to re-orient departments towards collaborating and making a unified effort.

Start from the top
The best way to begin reformation is to address the managers. Often, managers push their teams towards specific targets. Such unwavering focus is beneficial but not when it conflicts with the goals of other departments. This is a common issue when teams focus on short-term achievements.

The way to overcome such short-sightedness is to show executives and team members the big picture. Individuals executing leadership roles have to realise that long-term goals hold greater value over departmental objectives. This eliminates ‘pesky’ behaviour when collaborating and exchanging information across departments.

Unite against common challenges
Empathy is an essential quality in working professionals. Simply put, empathy is the ability to understand others’ perspectives. One of the ways to evoke empathy across teams is to get employees to talk about obstacles at work. Although the nature of issues may vary, the common denominator is that of facing challenges. Everyone relates to a general sense of facing hardship and the satisfaction of finding solutions with their expertise and experience.

Get team members to talk about their strategies to overcome difficult circumstances. This is a great way for teams to exchange information and learn from each other’s experiences. Most importantly, you can get ‘silos’ to break open their outer shells and reveal their inner-workings.

Recognise everyone’s contributions
Every complex piece of machinery consists of several different parts. Each component contributes to the machine’s functionality. Similarly, all departments become instrumental to the success of the organisation. This is possible only when all units that make up the system, synchronise their efforts.

One of the ways to get rid of the silo attitude is to make teams realise the effort that goes into making an organisation successful. Further, when teams combine their resources to achieve a common goal, they inevitably recognise the value of each other’s contribution.

Form coalitions 
Cross team building exercises have been given a lot of emphases. Teams learn to complete tasks by co-operating and helping each other. Just like their performance in a simulated environment, teams can be encouraged to coordinate and accomplish objectives, even at work. During the process, everyone learns together, combat hardships together, and learn to rely on each other.

It is apparent that all teams have their strengths and certain weaknesses. By making up for each other’s inadequacies, a collaborative effort by teams helps achieve the desired result. For example, data collected and analysed by the marketing team can provide useful insights to sales personnel. The former can predict buyer patterns while the latter can use this information to turn buyers into loyal customers.

There is no secret to establishing a great inter-departmental relationship. Like most relationships, the principle of reciprocity determines its fate and viability. In other words, it is mutual and grows organically, with each contribution strengthening its foundations. What you give is directly proportional to what you get in return.

As the name suggests, the silo-mentality is a mindset problem. Once you convince your team of the advantages of communication, co-operation and collaboration, the team will see the advantage of breaking out of their silos.

The author is a Transformation Coach & Consultant and the founder of Cupela.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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