Picture of people working together to illustrate a blog piece on organizational silos, teamwork and silo working

What Are Organizational Silos: The Dangers of Silo Working

“Teamwork makes the dream work”, “There’s no ‘I’ in team”, “Team: together everyone achieves more”.

We’ve heard these quotes countless times before, and we certainly know them by heart. So, why is it that many businesses struggle to make teams work together? Why does the dream not… work? Silo working is the most common denominator in teamwork struggles.

What are organizational silos?

Organizational silos definition

Organizational silos are structures that divide employees and teams into individuals, making them work independently and often avoid sharing information. People like to focus on what they are doing, which means that they often don’t think about the unintended consequences on other parts of the organization when they make decisions in their silos.

The formal definition of silo mentality is “an insular management system in which one information system or subsystem is incapable of reciprocal operation with others that are, or should be, related.”

What causes organizational silos?

How silos occur

Silos aren’t intended, but nearly always form naturally as part of growth. Typically, management decisions to drive efficiency and measurement leads to the segregation of organizations into departments and units.

This in turn will lead to those different units having different mentalities and a focus on their own unit’s responsibilities. For a business to operate efficiently and be successful, employees need to work together and share ideas and updates.

Silos can form due to lack of awareness regarding the company’s goal, a lack of connection between departments, the physical separation of employees, cross-functional differences, cultural gaps, hierarchic structures, and competitiveness, amongst other issues.

What happens when silos exist?

The dangers of silo working

Silos can create bad relationships between teams and leaders. This can lead to blame culture and nimbyism (not in my backyard) between different divisions. This in turn leads to reduced and poorer communications which is in itself an ever decreasing circle.

Poor communication has wide-ranging impacts. It leads to a bad approach to whole-of-system thinking which causes decision making that is locally driven and not globally driven. Ultimately, those decisions cause unintended consequences resulting in failures (or failure demand) elsewhere in the business. Duplication of work becomes the norm and lower performance from team members.

Let’s not forget that silos also impact employee mental health and induce burnout, generally resulting in more employee resignations, and the replacement costs are huge.

Overall, poor communication between teams can create frustrations, affect team trust and respect, and, generally, result in weaker teams. These issues will directly impact productivity and incur extra costs.

As mentioned by Patrick Lencioni in Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, silos “waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals.”

Breaking down silos

How to end silo working

Now that we’ve discussed what organizational silos are and their dangers, let’s explore how to break up silos.

To break up silos, teams need to be encouraged to communicate better. The leadership team must agree to a unified vision for the whole organization, as a unified vision will encourage a focussed team mentality.

Once a unified vision has been agreed upon, all team members need to work together towards achieving the common goal, becoming more aware of how they can make an impact when working together, and how their roles inter-relate. This means they need to understand what everyone else is doing. This takes time but is worth the investment. The payback is enormous.

Team building exercises are proven to be an excellent way of improving team communication, boosting productivity, and identifying any emerging leaders and training needs teams may need. We developed TeamWork.Inc specifically to address this problem. It’s an ideal training tool to improve team communication and break down silos.

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