As organizations grow, many leaders find silos start to become a major cultural challenge. According to Investopedia, a silo mentality is an attitude that occurs when several departments or groups don’t want to share information or knowledge with other individuals in the same company. Silos reduce efficiency, which in turn lowers productivity and revenue. However, there are also positive effects of silos. They provide structure around different areas of expertise and allow for information to flow freely inside of a department or group. They also allow for a sense of ownership and pride, which is an important motivator.
That said, in order for organizations to work best, information needs to flow up and down an individual silo, as well as across multiple silos. With the need for more open communication to succeed, companies need to do some soul searching to eliminate the cultural factors that cause the silo mindset. These include:
- Lack of trust at the top. When the leadership team isn’t unified around a common vision for the organization, this creates confusion that funnels down the management chain. In order for employees to reach across departments to help each other, they need to understand the company’s priorities and goals. If there’s not that larger understanding, everyone focuses on what they feel is important personally, or what their department is working on, instead of the bigger picture.
- Focusing solely on traditional success markers. Making your sales goal for the quarter is an important metric – after all, the company won’t survive if it’s not profitable. However, instead of just rewarding the sales team, it’s worth the time to also recognize the departments and individuals that contributed to this success. Taking the time to show how different areas contributed, even if not directly, helps everyone to understand that it’s truly a team effort.
In order to avoid the silo mentality, keep some of these tips in mind:
- Hire the right people. It’s important to look for people to join the company who are team players, and understand that helping others is an important part of building a company culture where everyone succeeds. Ask potential new employees about the last time they worked with someone outside their department toward a common goal.
- Set the tone. People look to their managers for cues on attitude. It’s important for managers to demonstrate to their teams that they value everyone’s input, want to work together as a team, and that they’re happy to take on responsibilities outside their job description for the good of the company.
- Create physical spaces for collaboration. We all know the traditional water cooler example, but think about other places and spaces that may encourage people to get to know someone from another department. In our office, we have an area with couches where we often have impromptu meetings, and there’s also a ping-pong table that is a very popular place for breaks. Beyond that, there are two kitchens where people gather to make coffee, fill their water bottles, or heat up lunch and snacks.
- Build online spaces for sharing. This includes online instant messaging programs like HipChat, and document sharing sites like Google Docs and Box. However, there are also tools that act as an online version of those physical spaces, like Bloomfire. These social learning solutions offer a place to share documents, ask questions, discuss challenges, and find the information needed to get work done.
- Schedule one-on-one social opportunities. It can be difficult to get to know people who don’t work in your department, or who might work in a different location. However, human experience tells us that getting to know people that you work with personally leads to more productive work. It’s common for companies to set up group team building outings, but also important to set up opportunities – like smaller team events or one-on-one lunches – that give people who haven’t worked together the opportunity to meet.
Breaking down silos doesn’t happen without effort by the leadership, as well as individual employees. And while ignoring the silos may work for a while, in the end, it leads to weakness throughout the organization when people lose sight of the fact that they’re all in it together.
If you are interested in learning more about how a knowledge base can break down silos within your organization, check out our white paper, Proving the Value: Getting Internal Buy-In for a Knowledge Base.
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