When teams become siloed, businesses suffer. This is because silos increase a lack of communication and create distance between team members. As a result, company mistakes and poor customer experiences increase, while team culture, camaraderie, and collaboration decrease. Even teams with all-star players become dysfunctional, ineffective, and inefficient because employees aren’t collectively working together to achieve organizational goals.
Effective communication is the glue that binds teams together, which is why silos are so dangerous. Research on communication perceptions in the workplace conducted by Fierce, Inc. found “86 percent of respondents blame lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.” Undoubtedly, team connectivity is crucial for business success.
Learn more about what siloed teams are, why eliminating the silo mentality is important, signs of silos, and five methods of eradicating them from your business.
What Are Silos?
According to Merriam-Webster, a silo is “a trench, pit, or especially a tall cylinder usually sealed to exclude air and used for making and storing silage” or “an underground structure for housing a guided missile.” Like one of these storage containers, isolated teams hoard information inside their group. Because of this, they segregate themselves from the company’s overall business operations. Additionally, those with the silo mentality view team members in other departments as “outsiders.” For this reason, they limit communication and collaboration with them because of their fragmented and narrow understanding of how and why teams work together.
Why It’s Important to Get Rid of the Silo Mentality
Leaders and employees who operate with a siloed mentality are toxic to the business’s team culture. Ultimately, this fixed mindset reduces the company’s ability to achieve its mission. One of the worst results of silos is negative customer experiences. Ultimately, it is an organization’s job to fulfill its customers’ needs. Providing an excellent customer journey becomes ten times harder without communication and collaboration. Because customers are the lifeblood of an organization, letting silos slide is a business mistake employers can’t afford to make.
Here are a few examples of the negative effects of siloed teams:
- Increased competitiveness among employees.
- The development of a team culture where some feel disenfranchised.
- Mistakes made by people on other teams are viewed as a “win,” even though the business suffers.
- Lack of communication causes inefficiencies like multiple people spending time doing the same job.
- Employees aren’t aware of organizational goals and how different departments work together to achieve them.
- Accountability and commitment decrease because it’s easy to point fingers at someone else.
- Employee retention drops because great workers realize the unfair and ineffective conditions silos create.
Top Signs of Siloed Teams
If you’re concerned there might be siloed teams in your company, check the list below and compare it to what’s happening in your business.
1. Lack of Communication
The most common sign of a silo is a lack of communication among teams and various departments. Oftentimes, lack of communication looks like a blame game. For instance, when an initiative gets delayed, people often cite other departments as the reason they couldn’t move forward. Look for distanced language such as, “I have no clue what they do over there in IT. No one ever responds when I call their department.” Employees, no matter their position, should have visibility into work being conducted by other departments and available communication tools that support timely responses.
Communication is an issue if:
- Employees are unaware of what other departments do and how they move the company’s objectives forward.
- Team members don’t know anyone in the company outside their “inner circle.”
- Managers or team leaders withhold important information from other teams.
- Individuals get assigned duplicate work.
- Teams lack the communication tools needed for contacting people on a company-wide scale.
2. Unhappy Customers
When communication and collaboration get tabled due to siloed teams, customers get stuck with the results. For example, this might look like receiving a purchased item months later because the merchandising, sales, and shipping departments aren’t properly communicating. Buyers are a business’s greatest marketers. Yet, when a person has a poor customer experience, they can also be a purchasing deterrent. Prior reviews, testimonials, and feedback are a critical part of a lead’s buying decision process. Research from Brightlocal found 87 percent of people consult online reviews before making a purchase. Reviews that communicate a terrible customer experience can result in a serious loss of sales.
Instances of dissatisfied customers include:
- Bad reviews about products, services, or customer service posted to social media accounts.
- Low ratings on Yelp, Google, or your company website.
- Better Business Bureau complaints.
- Lack of long-term repeat customers who provide client referrals.
3. Productivity is Low
When siloed teams exist in a company, productivity decreases because teams no longer work together to complete company goals. Instead, the amount of red tape between departments increases and slows down even small initiatives. Ultimately, the business’s control over work prioritization is lost because each team is making its own agenda about work priority and timelines. For instance, imagine six teams independently starting projects but not working together to complete them. Lack of cohesiveness brings a dip in productivity and ultimately impacts a business negatively.
A loss of productivity might be present if:
- Disengaged employees make comments like “what’s the purpose of doing this? Nothing ever gets done anyway.”
- Progress on initiatives requiring the work of multiple teams is slow-moving.
- Leaders and teams complain about playing the game of “hurry up and wait.”
4. Lack of Accountability
Accountable team members are engaged team members. When people are emotionally invested in their work, they willingly take ownership of their duties and ensure they get done. When failure or mistakes occur, they want to make things right as quickly as possible because they care about how their work impacts other team members and the business. Yet, the silo mentality makes accountability difficult. Those on siloed teams only care about the well-being of their team so mistakes become someone else’s problem.
Here are the red flags of an accountability issue:
- There’s no policy for communicating expectations when delegating duties.
- Employees frequently blame others for their errors.
- Excuses like, “that’s not my job” are common.
5. Lack of a Cohesive Brand Message
When the various departments of a company communicate and collaborate, they use unified brand messaging. Brand messaging is a business’s strategic communication about how their product or service provides value to customers. In a healthy company, this message is consistent across various brand touchpoints such as email and ad copy, social media posts, and product descriptions. In a company with silos, teams will independently create their own messaging to promote whatever they find important. This convolutes the business’s overall communication, making their purpose unclear. As a result, confusion inhibits purchases.
Clues a siloed team is not using the business’s brand messaging:
- Various departments use different lingo when communicating with customers.
- When looking at the customer journey, the company doesn’t have a distinct brand voice.
- Inconsistencies run across brand touchpoints like the website, social media accounts, and sales pages.
How to Get Rid of Silos
If your business has experienced any of the signs above, take action now to remove existing siloed teams. Below, find five strategies for eliminating them and developing a more connected and communicative team culture.
1. Communicate the Company’s Vision and Mission
The first step in eliminating siloed teams is to develop and clearly communicate your company’s vision and mission. All employees, regardless of their role, collectively bring these large-scale initiatives to life. It’s up to leaders to create a business strategy that aligns with achieving these purposes. This is essential to keeping teams unified and working together. When executives fail to communicate purpose, employees are left to make assumptions. As a result, teams begin to break away from the overarching organizational objectives.
To improve communication around vision and mission:
- Get clear on your business’s vision statement and mission statement. Is an update in order? Review them with your team to ensure the statements are precise, clear, and agreed upon by leaders from all areas of the business.
- Train executives, directors, managers, and team leaders to lead with the vision and mission in mind. For example, present and discuss new projects or goals in the context of how they align with the big picture.
- Make purpose the focal point. Tie vision, mission, and purpose to everything your business does.
2. Share Information
A high level of knowledge exchange within a company is essential. For instance, don’t seclude copywriters in a bubble where they only interact with other writers. They play a valuable role in collaborating with a team of designers, marketers, and developers where each brings a unique perspective to building a phenomenal web page. Instead of working in isolation, team members should be asking, “How can we produce the most excellent version of this together?” As written in Josh Shenk’s article in The New York Times, “The lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, a more truthful model is emerging: The creative network . . . or the real heart of creativity—the intimate exchange of the creative pair.” One person’s creative idea or constructive feedback could bring in thousands of customers.
To inspire a higher level of information exchange:
- Create cross-department working days for team members to collaborate on a project.
- Give employees the tools they need to communicate in a timely manner. For instance, communication tools and business apps like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams are great for instant information sharing.
- Use a project management system like Asana, Monday.com, or Trello to encourages team-wide communication.
Learn more about the best collaborative project management apps and tools.
3. Eliminate Competitive Attitudes Among Teams
Amping up teams up with a cash-related competition might seem like a great way to increase engagement. Yet, scientific studies consistently show that fostering competition in the workplace is not beneficial to employees, team culture, or companies. For example, research conducted by Liad Bareket-Bojmel, Guy Hochman, and Dan Ariely found employee engagement decreases after competitions for cash end. Yet, those rewarded with verbal recognition and appreciation engaged more with the business over time. Instead of pitting team members against each other and creating silos, keep employees engaged by acknowledging them for their accomplishments. Do this both on an individual level and one that recognizes them as part of a larger team that impacts the business’s overall success.
Start discouraging competition by:
- Eliminating them from the workplace.
- Increasing recognition for great teamwork.
- Communicating the importance of a team mentality.
- Making teamwork and being a team player a top company value, and holding people accountable to this.
4. Introduce Employees from Different Teams to One Another
Create opportunities for people to work alongside those outside their department. For example, let employees spend an hour job shadowing someone in a position different from their own. This creates a level of connection, understanding, and respect that didn’t exist before. For example, let designers spend time with those in the AI department for a day. When employees who don’t regularly get together have the opportunity to ask each other questions, gain new insights about the work being done, and spend time bonding—the company wins. Additionally, organizations can plan experiences that build connections between diverse groups of team members. This might look like setting up a leadership team with varying perspectives, hosting a team retreat, or having a company-wide community service day.
Some other ideas for growing team bonds are:
- Setting up a mentorship program throughout the business.
- Utilizing a cross-functional decision-making team that prioritizes initiatives.
- Celebrating together the company’s milestones and big wins.
5. Develop Leaders Who Don’t Allow Silos
Silos are a leadership issue because leaders are the ones responsible for eliminating them. As leadership expert John C. Maxwell writes in an article on his website, “it’s still the responsibility of a leader to dig in whenever silos appear; if you don’t, if you leave the conflict unaddressed, you allow the silos to thicken, or worse, increase in number.” This doesn’t mean an executive should become a silo watchdog. Due to the amount of conflict that occurs in large organizations, it would become their full-time role. This is why building leaders at every level of a company is important.
To construct an army of leaders:
- Clearly communicate and uphold company values.
- Show team members what servant leadership looks like in action by putting others’ needs above yours.
- Provide education and mentorship opportunities for those who show leadership promise.
- Develop a network that ensures teamwork and collaboration flow freely throughout the business.
Writing Collaboration Into KPIs
When teamwork becomes a low priority, companies lose in several ways. This might look like the loss of valuable employees or loss of profits caused by a lack of communication that results in severe business mistakes. The International Data Corp reports that Fortune 500 companies lose at least $31.5 billion a year when knowledge isn’t shared among team members. Without a doubt, silos drain teams and businesses of efficiency, effectiveness, creativity, and profitability.
One of the best fixes is for leaders to bring collaboration and teamwork to the forefront of employee evaluations and decisions regarding the next wave of leaders. For example, human capital research company i4cp found that only about 25 percent of businesses “align effective collaboration with their employee performance management processes” while “high-performance organizations are emphasizing collaboration in performance goals 3x to 5.5x more than the rest.” This shows a strong connection between business success and team collaboration. Make teamwork a measurable value when setting and reviewing key performance indicators (KPIs) and other types of performance metrics.
Learn more on setting more effective KPIs by checking out this article next: “Factor Employees into KPIs for Greater Success.”
Interested in learning about how to increase team culture when guiding remote teams? Read “Remote Workers: How To Build A Strong Remote Team.”