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Information silos: what are they, and how do you prevent them?

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

May 25, 2022

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 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 another messaging platform, and everyone is working on their tasks. Even though you’re all working towards the same goal, it feels 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 work in silos, they cannot collaborate effectively, leading to missed deadlines, subpar work, poor communication, and general frustration.

So, how can you prevent information silos from happening? Here are a few tips.

What is a silo?

Before we can learn how to prevent silos, we must 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 separate 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 solve the same problems or continually deal with inconsistent information, they develop feelings of isolation and frustration — which 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 cannot benefit from their colleagues’ knowledge and expertise 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. The final product will be a disaster if they don’t collaborate well.

How to prevent information silos: 11 tips

Thankfully, you can prevent silos from forming in your organization (or overcome them).

1. Encourage communication

The first step is to encourage communication between team members.  Establish which communication channels your team should use and when. Create dedicated chat topics to keep people focused. Create a set of best practices to ensure your team’s communication doesn’t become a distraction. And keep your communication style positive.

Use regular check-ins to see how people feel and learn to navigate different communication styles.

2. Encourage collaboration

We can all agree that collaboration is crucial, 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 allows everyone 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 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. Work friendships help team members feel more engaged and energized.

If you have a remote workforce, creating opportunities for team members to meet in person is still beneficial. If possible, organize company-wide or department-wide retreats regularly.

5. Encourage feedback

Encourage feedback between team members by setting up regular performance reviews. You can also allow team members to give feedback via peer-to-peer sessions, anonymous forms and surveys, and appreciation chat topics.

Establishing a culture of continuous feedback takes time, but it will help you gain the insights you need to make impactful and evidence-based decisions.

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 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 know what needs to happen at different stages, they can assign teams to work together to complete tasks most efficiently.

At the same time, create checkpoints that involve input from multiple people and departments. Cross-functional accountability helps prevent backtracking because multiple teams must give feedback before the project moves forward.

This allows coworkers to work together, share ideas, and solve problems. 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 happening in the company, and give them the information they need to do their jobs effectively.

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. Practicing goal-setting with your team is vital so everyone knows the overall mission and how their work fits into it. Managers should set up weekly, biweekly, or (at the very least) monthly meetings to review progress and ensure 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 exercise you choose, the important thing is that it gets your team to open up and feel comfortable communicating with coworkers.

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 help team members communicate in real-time, so they can ask questions, share ideas, and collaborate on projects.
  • Virtual whiteboards: virtual whiteboards (like Cacoo) provide a convenient way to brainstorm ideas, share documents, and collaborate on designs as a team. With video calling built right in, you can work and communicate in real time or asynchronously.

Final thoughts

You can prevent information silos from forming in your organization. Encourage communication, collaboration, and networking between team members, and prioritize transparency. Work on your team and organizational culture. And finally, make sure you have a suite of collaboration tools that make work between 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.



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