Updated: Apr 12
Business owners seeking to optimize the culture of their companies should be continuously pursuing ways to increase productivity levels, inspire innovation, and adapt and be nimble in changing environments. They should also be actively assessing for threats.
Organizational silos are one such phenomenon that can greatly hinder and risk business growth.
Silos in a company are groupings of individuals in a certain department, team, rank, geographical region, etc. who only communicate and collaborate with one another, and do not engage with people outside of the silo. These alliances can threaten productivity and innovation, make employees resistant to change, and lead to cases of duplicative work across teams.
There are several reasons why silos can form within companies, and many explanations boil down to a pervasive culture established at the management level. Whether executives simply tolerate silos or outright encourage the competitive dynamics that form them, silos can have a few short-term benefits (such as boosting micro-team comradery or earning accolades for certain individuals), but in the long run, can prohibit a company from achieving its potential.
If your company is encumbered by organizational silos, here are five ways to break them down and create a culture of partnership and cross-functional collaboration:
1. Encourage and facilitate cross team bonding and collaboration – Breaking down tribal barriers in any scenario involves creating relationships with the “other” group. While communications encouraging this cultural change are important and helpful, they are only part of the equation to success. Leadership should also create situations that involve inter-team interactions, such as a company-sponsored event or project. Intentionally creating situations that require teams to work outside of their established silos will open the doors for familiarity in future situations.
2. Empower cross-functional collaboration by providing tools and resources – Sometimes organizational silos occur simply because it is easier to interact with certain people than others, due to circumstances like geographical location. In our technology-enabled working environment, companies should be quick to adopt proven tools that equip their employees to effectively collaborate with colleagues no matter where they are working. Resources that enable real-time communication, like Slack, or facilitate project management can be very valuable for eliminating silos.
3. Unify all employees behind a shared mission – Silos can also form because of company cultures that have competing or unclear missions. Especially in organizations that have many major projects, are significantly larger in size, or are more physically dispersed, it can be difficult for employees to feel they are a part of one cohesive team. A way to solve this issue is to develop a shared mission, importantly one that employees take part in creating and support, to unify the workforce.
4. Lead by example – It is only human nature to mirror the actions and preferences of those around us. Thus, employees are going to emulate and take cues from the work habits of their supervisors. Executives should be prepared to “walk the walk” and not fall into silo pitfalls themselves. Deliberately reach out to other executives to launch cross-functional initiatives or organize team-bonding events.
5. Nominate liaisons responsible for championing cross-functional collaboration – While the onus for shifting company culture will likely ultimately fall on leadership, it does not have to solely be executives taking action to make the change. Identify and nominate team liaisons within each silo to help encourage cross-functional collaboration. Opt for trusted, long-term employees who would likely be more influential to their peers and colleagues.
In an environment where there are already numerous challenges and threats, organizational silos are one such burden that can be more easily identified and eliminated than others. While there are situations where it makes sense to implement smaller teams for projects to enable more agility, a company’s overall culture should not operate in such a fractured manner. It is important to promote a culture of partnership across all teams and departments to ensure your company is positioned for optimal growth.
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