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Breaking down silos across an organisation

Learn how to recognise when teams are working in silos and get them to start working together towards your organisation's unified vision.


What is a silo?

As a business grows, organisational silos invariably increase. If everything went to plan, every member of your team would be in the loop about important projects. In an ideal world, there’d never be any communication lags between departments. But even the most cutting-edge, innovative companies aren’t immune to silos. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be dismantled or prevented.

Organisational silos are an issue for both large and small businesses. But what is a silo? A silo is a system that separates different types of employees, usually according to the department in which they work. This leads to barriers that stand in the way of team collaboration and communication and reduces efficiency and hinders the flow of information.

It’s worth pointing out that 'silos' do not equal 'teams'. There’s no inherent problem with an organisation that has a range of specialist, small-scale teams. In fact, specialist teams are a great way to boost focus and increase accountability within your company. Organisational silos, on the other hand, refer to how teams work – and not in an especially positive way. When it’s said that teams are 'working in silos' it means that they’re disconnected from the organisation at large. As a result, bottlenecks, miscommunication and myriad problems ensue.

What’s wrong with working in silos?

Working in silos can have a severe impact on your business. They cause internal turf wars and can produce a lack of trust within the company. This results in both inefficiencies and redundancies within departments. In practical terms, teams stop talking, feedback stops getting passed along and miscommunication derails projects. Very quickly, your organisational structure starts killing innovation, and small cracks in the foundation can start to seem insurmountable.

Data holds the key to maximising customer experience and an information silo mentality can wreak havoc on customer satisfaction as well. If teams aren’t encouraged to practice information sharing as standard, they may not be able to leverage that data effectively. As a result, breaking down silos could play a major role in the ultimate success – or failure – of your company.

How to break down organisational silos

Once you identify organisational silos within your company, it’s time to act. Implementing long-term, scalable solutions as early as possible can help stop your workplace from ossifying into a culture of closed-off, fragmentary silos. So how do you do it? Here are our silo-busting tactics for breaking down the unwanted silos within your organisation:

Communicate the bigger picture

In many cases, organisational silos begin to form when employees develop loyalty not to the company, but to their team or manager. To combat this, you should help teams understand how they contribute to the overall bigger picture, specifically where the team and their work fits into your company’s common goal. This enables your departmental teams to think of themselves as all pulling in the same direction, rather than inward-looking silos fighting their corner.

Transparency and communication are key, as they foster a sense of shared accountability across the organisation. Once your sales teams understand exactly what’s going on in the marketing department, they’ll be far less likely to hoard resources and information. Ensure that you’re communicating the company’s mission across a range of mediums so that it’s always first concern for your employees.

Tackle organisational silos from the top down

When we look at the root cause of silos, it’s almost always the result of leadership. If your executive team isn’t focused on the overarching goals of your company, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to deal with information silos effectively. However, once leadership buys into the company’s unified vision and commits to the concept of collaborative behaviour and cross-functional teamwork, your teams will follow suit.

What can you do to help establish a unified leadership team? As a leader, you need to foster an environment that allows and encourages debate. Give everyone the opportunity to share their views, ensuring that the whole executive team feels as if their opinion has been heard and accounted for. But once you’ve made a decision, leadership needs to start working together towards your organisation’s common goal.

Establish interdepartmental cooperation

It’s important that team members feel a sense of affiliation not just with their team, but with the organisation as a whole. By encouraging cooperation between departments, you can ensure that team members form relationships that cut across departmental lines, improving coordination and collaboration throughout the organisation. Plus, it’s a great way to counteract some of the operational inefficiencies that arise from organisational silos, such as repeat work or longer cycle times.

Cross-functional teams, where teams are made up of individuals from different function areas, can be a great solution. For example, a cross-functional team may have one person from finance, one designer, one engineer, one marketer and so on. Not only does this organisational structure promote positive collisions and team collaboration between your employees, but it helps to reduce hand-offs and breaks in context. This ensures that a single team can handle as much of the customer lifecycle as possible.

Provide cross-functional training

While specialisation is important, it’s also a good idea to share information and expertise via cross-functional training. Scheduling regular, interdepartmental training sessions can help make your employees aware of resources and information that may be useful to other departments. It’s also a way to encourage career development, as teams better understand which aspects of the company are best suited to their interests and skills.

There are many other ways that you can break down interdepartmental boundaries. Take the corporate 'hackathon sessions', popularised by Silicon Valley heavyweights. Participants are encouraged to form groups with team members from different departments, helping to smudge departmental lines and get out of the silo mindset that affects so many major tech startups.

Work smarter with Dropbox

Finally, there are a broad range of collaboration tools you can use to encourage your teams to stop working in silos and work smarterDropbox Smart Workspace provides one organised space to work, ensuring that all the content and tools you need to use are easily accessible. Smart Workspace brings together everyone associated with a project or file, giving you the opportunity to centralise collaboration, rather than fragmenting communication across multiple channels. You can also easily make and share a screen recording with Dropbox Capture to make sure the message and tone isn’t lost. A video is a personal touch instead of another PDF.

Breaking down silos within an organisation is never an easy task, but it’s not a task that you can afford to avoid, either. By encouraging teams to buy into a shared vision in order to collaborate in an agile manner, you can work towards eliminating organisational silos in your workplace, thus priming your company for greater success.

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