Information silos: what are they, and how do you prevent them?
It’s no secret that the workplace is changing. Data scientists at Ladders predict that 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, with remote opportunities increasing throughout 2023.
With more and more people working remotely, the traditional office setup is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. And while this new way of working has many advantages, it also comes with its own set of challenges.
Picture this: you’re working on a project with a team of people located in different parts of the world. You’re communicating via email, video, or some other messaging platform, and everyone is working on their own individual tasks. Even though you’re all working towards the same goal, it can feel like you’re in your own little world, disconnected from the rest of the team.
This feeling of isolation is what we call “working in a silo,” and it’s a big problem for remote teams.
When team members are working in silos, they cannot collaborate effectively, which can lead to missed deadlines, subpar work, poor communication, and general feelings of frustration.
So, how can you prevent information silos from happening? Here are a few tips.
What is a silo?
Before we can get into how to prevent silos, it’s important to understand what they are. A silo is defined as ‘a rigidly compartmentalized structure or organization.’ In other words, it’s a situation where people or departments are isolated from each other, both physically and mentally.
In a workplace setting, silos can occur when teams are geographically dispersed, lack communication between departments, or promote competition over cooperation.
What is an information silo?
Information silos stem from poor communication between departments or teams. When teams fail to share information, each group has to make decisions based on their individual data and objectives.
The problem is a departmental or team project doesn’t exist in a vacuum; they’re all part of a larger purpose. Organizational goals depend on the diverse expertise of different teams, which means everyone needs to understand the big picture. Teams that are cut off from one another can’t work from a single source of truth and get things done efficiently.
Why are information silos bad for business?
The biggest disadvantages of information silos are wasted time and effort, either due to constant backtracking or duplication of work. When team members have to continually solve the same problems or deal with inconsistent information, they develop feelings of isolation and frustration — two things that are terrible for morale. And when people can’t collaborate effectively, it can impact the timeline and quality of the work.
Moreover, silos can create an “us vs. them” mentality that fosters conflict and inhibits collaboration. In competitive cultures, information silos often form when teams feel pressured to deliver results faster than others.
Another downside? Team members aren’t able to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of their colleagues when they work in silos.
Think about the countless skills involved in developing an app. Design, development, user research, and content teams benefit from having a foundational understanding of each other’s roles and project goals because they all create elements that have to work together seamlessly. If they don’t collaborate well, the final product will be a disaster.
How to prevent information silos: 11 tips
Thankfully, you can take steps to prevent silos from forming in your organization (or overcome them).
1. Encourage communication
It’s also important to create an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns — something that starts with a transparent company culture.
2. Encourage collaboration
We can all agree that collaboration is crucial, and yet, 39% of employees believe people in their organization don’t collaborate enough.
To encourage teamwork, assign tasks that require input from multiple people, and set up regular opportunities for team members to work together.
One way to do this is to schedule focused work sessions where team members can get together (virtually or in person) to complete specific milestones in a project. A facilitated session gives everyone a chance to brainstorm ideas, collaborate on solutions, and get feedback from colleagues.
3. Promote knowledge-sharing
Create resources to promote knowledge-sharing within the organization. Set up a knowledge base or wiki where team members can easily refer back to important diagrams, documents, and best practices.
It’s also important to encourage team members to share their expertise with their colleagues. Create opportunities for team members to give presentations or lead training sessions.
4. Encourage networking
Don’t assume coworkers will network on their own. Try organizing social events (both virtual and in person) to encourage team members to connect and share their interests.
If you have a remote workforce, it’s still beneficial to create opportunities for team members to meet in person. If possible, organize company-wide or department-wide retreats on a regular basis.
5. Encourage feedback
Encourage feedback between team members by setting up regular performance reviews. You can also give team members the opportunity to give feedback via peer-to-peer sessions, anonymous forms and surveys, and appreciation chat topics. The more feedback, the better.
6. Build cross-functional teams
Building cross-functional teams is one of the best ways to prevent silos from forming. Instead of having employees only work with their own team, they should regularly collaborate with other departments.
How do you make this happen? Develop projects with a big-picture mentality, and consider the roles each department should play in achieving the core goals. When managers have a clear idea of what needs to happen at different stages, they can assign teams to work together to complete tasks in the most efficient manner.
At the same time, create checkpoints that involve input from multiple people and departments. Cross-functional accountability helps prevent backtracking because different teams must give feedback before the project moves forward.
This also gives coworkers the opportunity to work together, share ideas, and solve problems as a team. People may need a little encouragement. We tend to gravitate toward familiar work situations; so as a manager, be proactive when assigning people to jobs. Mix things up a bit.
7. Work on creating a vibrant company culture
Having a good work culture helps with the overall health of your company. It attracts great employees, keeps them around longer, and generally makes everyone happier.
When it comes to preventing information silos, company culture is key. This is because a strong company culture helps to encourage communication, collaboration, and networking between team members, helping everyone feel like they’re part of one big team.
8. Make transparency a priority
Transparency is essential when it comes to preventing silos. Be open and honest with team members about what’s going on in the company, and give them the information they need to do their jobs effectively.
It’s also important to encourage team members to share information with each other. Set up a knowledge-sharing system where team members can exchange documents, best practices, schedules, and other information.
Top tip: project management software acts as a great central hub. Use it as a repository for important documents and a tool for project tracking, scheduling, and follow-ups.
9. Practice goal-setting
When we work remotely, we often focus so much on the day-to-day tasks that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s vital to practice goal-setting with your team so that everyone is clear on the overall mission and how their individual work fits into it. Managers should set up weekly, biweekly, or (at the very least) monthly meetings to review progress and make sure everyone’s on the same page.
10. Try out some team-building exercises
Research shows that team-building exercises can help to improve communication, collaboration, and trust between team members. There are a variety of team-building activities you can try, but some popular ones include icebreakers, problem-solving games, and trust-building exercises.
No matter what type of exercise you choose, the important thing is that it gets your team to open up and feel comfortable communicating with coworkers. Speaking of collaboration…
11. Use collaboration tools
Collaboration tools help to promote communication between team members, making it easier for them to work together on projects. Here are three you should have in your toolkit:
- Project management tools: PM tools (like Backlog) help team members organize and track their work. That way, everyone knows what they’re doing, when their tasks are due, and how the project is progressing.
- Chat apps: chat apps (like Typetalk) help team members communicate in real-time, so they can ask questions, share ideas, and collaborate on projects.
- Video conferencing: video conferencing tools (like Zoom or Skype) allow team members to meet face-to-face and build relationships and trust. It’s a must for important meetings and one-on-one sessions.
- Virtual whiteboards: virtual whiteboards (like Cacoo) provide a convenient way to brainstorm ideas, share documents, and collaborate on designs in real-time as a team.
There are a few things you can do to stop information silos from forming in your organization. Encourage communication, collaboration, and networking between team members, and make transparency a priority. Work on your team and organizational culture. And finally, make sure you have a suite of collaboration tools that make work between remote teams a breeze.
With a little effort and a willingness to work together, you can create a more cohesive organization that works like a dream — even if it consists of teams working on entirely different continents.