Risks of Business Silos and Tips for Breaking Down Barriers to Success

Organizational silos are when individual people, departments, or companies, conduct business in a vacuum, without taking into consideration the impact their actions have on the entire organization. The term silo literally means a ‘storage tower’ – a tall, cylindrical building that separates and stores material on a farm.

Are you working at a company in which people talk and collaborate with each other, or are all employees working in silos?

There are many real-life examples of silo work environments – here are a few instances that come to mind.

Not for profit society

Decentralized marketing and communications budget. Each department handles their own marketing and creative projects, leading to inefficiency of marketing spend and duplication of efforts across departments, not to mention a disjointed brand message.

Internet marketing company

Decentralized management and decision making dictates how this organization operates. Each department operating like a mini company without one single point of accountability on projects and initiatives, leading to a duplication of efforts, inconsistency of decisions, and money wasted.

Video production agency

Each department blaming the other for the failures of the company characterized the silos in this company. “If only sales got us higher budgets for our work,” and “if only the creative team did the work we asked for, faster.” Each department blaming the other rather than focusing on the issue as a company problem, and working together to solve it.

International food manufacturing business

A major manufacturing plant with well-entrenched silos that had been built up by long serving directors into mini fiefdoms. To ensure control directors insisted all information leaving their department went through them. So to talk to anyone outside your department, you had to inform your director, who informed another director who passed it down. The outcome was an almost complete breakdown in effective communication.

Working in silos and not communicating is an issue. Some of the disadvantages of working in silos include:

  • Efforts not focused on real company issues
  • Time and resources wasted
  • Duplication of efforts
  • Inefficiency of investment dollars
  • Negative affects on collaboration
  • Increased likelihood of errors
  • Breakdown of communication
  • Decrease in staff morale
  • Employee de-motivation

Breaking down business silos that have perhaps been entrenched in your company’s DNA for many years can be quite challenging – especially because most people are adverse to change.

7 Tips for breaking down business silos:

  1. It starts at the top and flows down. Develop a company’s core values that include collaboration, communication and teamwork, and practice what you preach by building teams based on shared company goals.
  2. Promote an inclusive work environment versus an exclusive one – bring people across the organization together, don’t drive them apart.
  3. Have an open door policy and keep lines of communication open between management and staff.
  4. Create a feedback loop or discussion platform to listen to employee suggestions and recommendations.
  5. Make employees accountable and praise their contribution to the overall organization.
  6. Encourage cross-department team collaboration, discussion and brainstorming.
  7. Check your ego at the door and cease control – micro-management is not effective.

Silos can pose serious business risks, whether they occur in big corporations or small start-ups. A big risk is not being nimble enough to make decisions and act quickly in an ever-changing business landscape, in order to ensure survival.

Can there be healthy silos – or is that just an oxymoron?

What are some of the ways in which your organization eliminates silos? I invite you to drop your comments in the section below.

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