How to spot and eliminate work silos before they’ve gone too far
February 18, 2021
This post was originally published on July 13, 2017, and updated most recently on February 18, 2021.
Too many organizations tout collaboration as a fundamental pillar of success while allowing silo mentality to run rampant within their teams. The reason is simple: Collaboration is hard! But a lack of collaboration is deadly to any company wanting to make a real impact in the world today. If you want to be great, you have to eliminate “silo mentality.”
For those unfamiliar: silo mentality is an attitude that develops wherein different departments or groups within an organization do not want to share information or knowledge with other individuals in the same organization. It negatively affects everything from productivity and efficiency to morale and company culture.
Unfortunately, work silos can become so insular that they become difficult to spot from the outside. And if you can’t spot them, you’re certainly not going to fix them.
Work silos are like the bed bugs of business — they spread quickly, and they’re a pain to eradicate. So let’s learn to spot their warning signs and eliminate them before they can do any more damage.
Keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs.
The clearest sign of a silo in the workplace is two teams tackling the same responsibilities. We know duplicate work is costly for the company, but it’s also terrible for team morale. It pits teams against one another and renders work that employees put time and care into effectively meaningless.
One way to ensure teams are synchronizing without overlapping is to use technology.
With the complexity of modern projects, it can feel impossible to track what every team and member is working on. Luckily, with the help of modern project management apps, you can easily store everyone’s work assignments in one place, allocate tasks evenly, and track them as they progress.
You can quickly spot duplicate work by simply ensuring that every team member is logging their work as a task. Since each task will include detailed information about the work to be done, project managers can begin to address redundancies in real-time directly with the employees, teams, and other managers involved.
And because project management software allows for a higher level of transparency, anyone on any team — not just managers — can see every task in progress and point out duplicate efforts as they see them.
A ship will never reach its destination if the crew doesn’t agree whether they’re going North or South. Similarly, silos prevent your crew from reaching a common vision. Yes, your marketing team will have specific goals, the product team will have theirs, and so on, but every team’s goals should align towards a shared destination. Otherwise, your company is probably functioning like a ship sailing in circles.
When misaligned priorities start to derail your progress, it won’t matter which teams are hitting their goals and which aren’t. At the end of the day, your company won’t be moving in the intended direction together.
Creating priorities that align with the companies goals from the top down is a challenge for everyone. Sometimes the companies vision is ambiguous. Sometimes people disagree internally about what the goals should be. Even worse, sometimes, the vision is left undefined altogether.
It’s no wonder silo mentality thrives in this kind of setting. If you want to eliminate silos, you’ll need to ensure that everyone understands and buys into the company’s overall vision. All teams need to be moving forward together, creating departmental and individual goals that align with the greater purpose of the company.
Moreover, your team should revisit and reevaluate goals, again and again, to ensure that progress continues to support that vision as your company grows.
Having clear, prioritized, overarching goals for the company will make it much easier for your teams to align on priorities, collaborate on common goals, and eliminate silos.
Lack of collaboration
We all understand that collaboration is important, but many companies depend too much on informal collaboration (i.e., hoping their teams will naturally want to collaborate). The problem is, informal collaboration is ad hoc and insufficient.
For collaboration to truly thrive, you have to formalize it into your workflow and regularly check in to make sure it’s actually happening.
One way to encourage collaboration is through transparent communication. Again, technology can be an essential tool for achieving this goal.
Chat apps, project management tools, software for brainstorming and diagramming your ideas: all of these encourage every member to communicate and collaborate at each phase of their work. When conversations occur in a universally shared space, any member can contribute, and every member is aware of what conversations are happening.
No matter what software you choose, be sure it provides the integrations you need to connect your workflow. With your technology and workflow aligned, not only are your conversations transparent, but they can be linked to the actual work tasks themselves. Integrated app ecosystems, like Nulab’s, build collaboration into every aspect of your workflow.
The final red flag to watch out for can be a tough one to destroy: groupthink. Groupthink occurs when members of a team prioritize harmony and agreement over critical analysis. Members tend to follow whatever idea is presented rather than disagree or bring up contradictory evidence.
It’s easy to understand why groupthink is so common: We want to get along with our coworkers. But challenging one another’s ideas doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience if critical analysis is a foundation of the company culture. When critical analysis is encouraged, the best ideas rise to the top.
If your brainstorming sessions produce consensus without also producing new information or ideas, your team might be suffering from groupthink. If you don’t find a way to get people to start speaking up, innovation will suffer. And, ultimately, your teams will form strategies that don’t sufficiently support the company’s greater goals. Even worse: your team members may agree publicly but go back to their desks and do things the way they think is best. Sound like the formation of a new silo? Exactly.
Groupthink has to be discouraged from the top-down. Leadership needs to encourage all members to bring up new ideas and point out potential flaws. Encourage lively — but civil! — debate. Respect differences. And teach your team the value of collaborating to find solutions with the greatest potential.
Silos while working remotely
Everyone working separately makes it easier than ever to silo off. That goes both for each person or team from their department and for each department from one another. It can be hard to get everyone necessarily on a call or chat together. And trying to mix departments can get hectic or completely impossible.
In these circumstances, it makes sense to infuse your team with meeting to just co-mingle or even just get to know members of other departments. Take the time to add these practices to your team’s schedule to help prevent siloing.
Collaboration is the antidote to silos. Using technology and strong leadership, you can encourage more collaboration across your organization. Get rid of silos before they become entrenched in your company culture.