Working in Silos: What Is It and How Can You Prevent It?

Playing the famous Beethoven’s 5th Symphony requires the harmony of a large orchestra of professional musicians. They all need to play as a unity in total accordance with the rhythm. Let’s stop here for a moment and imagine that you paid for a VIP ticket to attend the concert. As the orchestra starts to play, they decide to switch things around. Each one of the musicians started playing on their own!! I mean, they are all professionals after all, so why not? The violinist, the cellist, the pianist, and even the maestro are doing their best on their own facing the wall not facing the musicians! How satisfied would you be with such performance? I bet you’d be frustrated, and you would ask for an immediate refund.

The example above demonstrates a situation called working in silos. It happens when a group of professionals decide to work on their own doing their best in what they master but without enough communication and coordination with the rest of the team. Spoiler alert – in most cases, this will result in unsatisfied clients and unfinished work that will eventually reflect on the finances.

What does working in silos mean?

Working in silos describes a situation when individuals and teams are working on the same objective but don’t communicate enough. The term ‘silos’ itself refers to containers used to store grains. So, it’s just like having individuals locked up in containers doing their work separately without coordination. This dangerous phenomenon can break down corporates over time and has to be supervised and managed before it’s too late.

Identifying the problem is halfway through the solution. So, we’ll talk about the main reasons that might lead to the silos behavior and how you can prevent it.

Leadership conflicts 

Leadership conflicts often lead to working in silos. When managers in the same or across different departments are not collaborating, their team members will do the same. This kind of silos working is dangerous because the employees may intentionally hide information from each other.

Unsupervised growth

Young companies could face this situation if not managed perfectly from the beginning. As companies grow, new departments start forming themselves with new responsibilities. And in that phase of the company’s life cycle, all departments will be fighting to stay under the spotlight. This results in various departments working on their tasks in their domain without actually thinking about the big picture and how their work will affect one another.

The physical environment 

The corporate environment has always been the best place for the silos mentality to grow, due to the old interior concept that accompanied corporate work for decades. Departments on separate floors, employees working in kiosk-like offices separated from each other, closed rooms, and so on. This led to growing the concept of silos working day after another, and employees intentionally or unintentionally isolated themselves and stopped communicating with each other.

Lack or absence of vision

The absence of vision or communication leads to ‘working in silos.’ Individuals and teams may lose interest in working together. It can affect team spirit and the sense of being a part of something big.

Let’s hold off the abstract talk and get into a real-life example. Consider a software company that came up with brilliant software offering users a unique experience. The company consists of financial, development, and sales departments. If departments worked with each other towards a common vision, it could result in satisfied users. As we all know, happy clients equal to more money for everyone. But if they changed into silos working, what could go wrong?

  1. Salespeople will be getting lots of feedback from clients. It will help develop better updates that correspond to users’ requirements, but they are not communicating this feedback to developers. 
  2. Developers will be aware of the strong and weak points that would help the sales team convince more clients into buying the software, but they are not communicating this information to the sales.
  3. Accountants will be overseeing the business on a financial level with statistics and reports and will know what factors led to higher sales in a specific period, and what versions of the software generated more money. Both pieces of information would benefit the sales and the developers to improve their work, but the accountants are not communicating this with others.

What can this lead to?

Even though all 3 teams did their best in what they’re good at, and delivered their best results, they didn’t communicate that information to each other. This eventually results in:

  • fewer sales
  • less satisfied clients
  • losing to competitors

A simple example with only 3 departments in a small firm showed you how working in silos affected everyone. Based on the company’s size this might lead to disasters. The bigger the company, the bigger the consequences will be from working in silos.

The risks associated with working in silos 

The most valuable resource in business organizations is time. Losing time leads to more costs and probably giving competitors the chance to take over the market. Working in silos is the biggest factor when it comes to wasting time. It causes lack of communication making the normal processes take way much longer than supposed to. Teams will be ‘reinventing the wheel’ because they are not sharing valuable information. Instead of working simultaneously, they will be running in circles. This duplication of effort is one of the worst foreseen results of working in silos because it leads to continuous loss of resources on all levels.

For instance, the amount of information that has to be communicated between the sales and marketing teams is enormous. Their day-to-day activities are so interconnected that people sometimes confuse them as one department. But imagine how bad it would be if these two teams were not sharing their knowledge. Both will have to go through massive work to reach results that could have been easily shared had they coordinated their activities. This doesn’t only apply to them but to every other individual working in the company.

Lack of communication and vision

In today’s world, there are lots of challenges that companies have to overcome to keep running. It requires a high level of collaboration between all individuals involved in the business. Brainstorming, meetings, conversations, activities, exchange of information are all important to stay up to the challenges. The miscommunication forced by working in silos is a killing factor for businesses that will result in a semi-dead company living on a ‘ventilator’ for another day, and just losing time until it dies at the end.

Motivation is key for creativity and having the whole team working as a unity towards a shared vision is more important than anything else. This has been the reason for success for many companies. However, at the same time it is not easy to keep the spark lit all the time. It requires lots of work from the management side to make sure everyone in the company believes in one vision and works towards it. When individuals turn to work in silos, they will start losing belief in the vision. They will only focus on the day-to-day activities and its reflection on their departments, not on the whole company. Having people believe they are part of something big motivates them to the maximum. It keeps them together as one, but when this is not achieved, they will start losing passion and isolating themselves.

Warning signs of working in silos

The company’s leadership has to be aware of everything going on in different departments so they can identify the early signs of working in silos before it’s too late. These are symptoms that you can notice in the team’s behavior and performance.

  • Prioritizing self activities instead of collaborative results. And this could show on the individual or the team level when people tend to care only about what they are doing instead of thinking of the impact on the whole company.
  • A rising number of conflicts between team leaders accompanied by a lack of trust in others’ performance resulting in having the ‘versus mentality’.
  • Redundancy in all levels of the company, from small tasks to whole projects. This can be noticed when individuals start working on the same functions without benefiting from each other’s experiences and previous work. This lack of collaboration can also be supervised by analyzing the usage of resources.
  • The increasing number of unsatisfied clients could be an important sign something is happening in the company that has to do with individuals, not the products and/or service it offers.
  • Communication breakdown and having to bring the company’s leadership into micro-managing everything since teams or individuals are not communicating enough to coordinate the work on their tasks.
  • A slow reaction to external changes in the business environment could be a sign that people are not collaborating as fast as possible, especially when all the other factors are in place. 
  • Lack of interaction between team members due to remote working could also be an important reason silo exists in a company.

How to prevent working in silos 

Overcoming silos doesn’t happen on its own. Managers have to take action to recover the company’s structure and bring it back to efficient collaboration.

Enhanced communication

You should increase the communication by creating a unified vision for the company. Motivate team members towards it, encourage conversations and meetings. These will eventually break down the ice between team members and bring them closer to each other. Building an information hub is a great step as well. It ensures that the resources and work of all teams are available across the company.

Working in the open

Working in the open, or out load, means exposing your work to everyone in the organization by sharing your work activities. Adopting the culture of working in the open will also help you break the silos, increase growth, and promote learning from each other’s experiences.

Using a collaborative platform 

Integrating a collaborative platform like Microsoft Teams is a perfect solution when it comes to breaking down silos in companies. Its capabilities allow to bring team members together as well as structure and organize their work. Teams offers a comprehensive collaborative environment that will also motivate users to interact and communicate over tasks and projects. It is suitable for both remote and office working models and could improve the performance of individuals and teams at the same time.

Channels and chat functions, online multimedia conferencing with brainstorming tools, multi-user real-time file editing, are only some of the features Teams will provide to its users. These features are excellent tools to save a company’s life and break down the silos mentality inside it.

Final thoughts

Your company might be offering the perfect products and services, but in today’s world this is not enough to keep the business running. You should focus on the organizational structure and the level of interaction between employees to avoid silo work. 

Admitting you have silos in your company is important, but it is more important to know how to break it down and switch into the collaborative environment. There are a lot of resources that can help you overcome this issue. One of them is Microsoft Teams. It is a perfect solution that you can easily adapt in your business even before you start witnessing silos. 

To empower teamwork and achieve operational excellence from one initiative to another, you may want to templatize your business processes. It will also allow you to bring the right people together and provide them with all the necessary structure, tools, and content for efficient collaboration by creating pre-built collaboration workspaces.

Learn more about how you can templatize your own business process with SalesTim.

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