How To Break Down Silos Within an Organization (With Steps)

Updated June 24, 2022

A successful organization often encourages collaboration across its various departments. However, the concept of organizational silos can hinder interaction and communication amongst these groups. Understanding silos and the steps you can take to break down these barriers can help organizations and employees thrive. In this article, we discuss the importance of breaking down silos within an organization and offer steps and tips to conduct this process.

What are silos?

Silos represent divisions between people or groups within an organization. You can find several types of silos, both tangible and intangible. For example, departments represent a common example of organizational silos. Organizations split employees into groups based on their job titles, responsibilities and skills. When a silo mentality exists, these departments solely focus on their goals and tasks and members rarely interact with individuals in other departments. As a result, information, resources and skills may become trapped in individual departments because of the lack of communication between them.

Related: What Are Organizational Silos? Pros and Cons and How To Break Them Down

Why is breaking down silos important?

Breaking down silos is a process of limiting or removing the divisions between people or groups in an organization. This process may alter both tangible and intangible barriers between them. When departments have a silo mentality, they don't share information or resources with anyone outside their group. Such divisions can hinder communication and collaboration throughout the organization. When organizations make an effort to break down those silos, it can offer numerous benefits, including:

  • Encourages collaboration: One way to break down silos is by incorporating collaboration tools into the workplace. These tools make it easy for individuals across different departments and teams to communicate and work with one another on organizational projects.

  • Supports better decision-making: Eliminating silos enables and encourages groups to share information and resources with individuals across the organization. This free flow of information can help managers and leaders make more informed decisions because they have more data available to them.

  • Boosts productivity: When departments share their resources and talents, it can help them accomplish tasks and projects more efficiently. Beyond seeking help from other departments, employees may find opportunities to learn from them to improve their usual processes.

  • Fosters innovation: Different departments represent unique skills and knowledge. Bringing these groups together to solve problems or work on projects can lead to more innovative solutions because of these diverse perspectives.

How to break down silos

You can use the following steps as guidance for breaking down silos within an organization:

1. Establish the organization's vision

An organization's vision statement defines its purpose and what it hopes to achieve. Creating a shared vision for the entire organization can help break down silos between different groups and encourage a team mentality. Instead of focusing on what their respective departments need to achieve, managers and employees can understand how they can contribute to the organization's ongoing growth and success. The organization's leaders can meet with managers to discuss and establish this vision. During these conversations, they may identify long-term goals the organization aims to achieve and the role each department plays in those efforts.

The vision statement should also incorporate the organization's values. These values ultimately align with its goals but should represent the principles or ideas that matter most to the organization. Once the leadership team has established a vision statement, it can promote it throughout the organization via mass-correspondence efforts. The organization can also incorporate its vision into employee handbooks and its websites or social media platforms. Continuously reminding the workforce about this vision can help motivate and inspire them to maintain that team mentality.

Related: 12 Vision Questions To Focus Your Organization

2. Set common goals

As mentioned, objectives play an essential role in an organization's vision statement. These long-term goals can serve as a unifying force for the organization's employees. When silos exist, each department develops its own goals and objectives based on its wants or needs. As a result, these goals may not always align with the goals of another department.

By establishing and promoting common goals, each department can instead think about what it needs to do to support them. For example, the organization may set a common goal to improve its overall reputation with customers. The customer service department may set a goal to improve satisfaction by increasing its average response time. Meanwhile, the product development teams may develop goals based on improving the quality of the organization's offerings. While the short-term goals may vary across different departments, their results help the organization's greater good rather than solely themselves.

Related: A Comprehensive Guide To Organizational Goals

3. Provide incentives

Employees with a silo mentality may sometimes focus on achieving their immediate needs rather than the organization's ongoing goals. Leaders can use incentives and other motivational tools to further break down such silos. These incentives can encourage employees to go beyond their typical or required tasks and take part in activities that help the organization meet its objectives.

For example, an organization may set a goal to increase its workforce to help boost its productivity levels. It may begin a referral program for employees, offering a monetary incentive to those who refer potential job candidates to the HR department. Such incentives can help prompt individuals throughout the organization to make referrals even when the new hiring decisions don't directly affect them.

4. Promote cross-departmental collaboration

Organizations can break down silos between departments by encouraging or requiring them to work together on projects. These projects provide specific goals for different departments to work toward together. This collaboration also promotes the sharing of resources, information and knowledge across various areas of the organization. It also enables employees to understand others' roles within the organization, and they may use these insights to improve future projects or processes.

For example, if an organization wants to launch a new website, it may build a project team comprising members from the marketing and IT departments. Web developers from the IT team build the website, while marketing specialists and graphic designers create the content hosted on it. These departments represent different talents and skills, and combining them can help develop and launch the project more efficiently. Throughout the projects, these departments can also learn about each other and how they operate. These insights can help them work more effectively together in the future because they already understand each other's needs and abilities.

Read more: Cross-Departmental Collaboration: 12 Tips To Foster It at Work

5. Assign cross-departmental liaisons

Leaders may find it helpful to assign liaison roles for cross-departmental projects. These individuals can help establish communication between the collaboration partners to keep the project on target. For example, they may organize regular meetings with members from each department to gather progress updates and identify challenges. The liaison can take notes and ensure the information gets shared with all relevant stakeholders. If conflicts arise, they may also act as a mediator to maintain a respectful partnership. When one department identifies a roadblock created by another, the liaison can listen to each side and develop a solution that supports everyone.

6. Implement team-building exercises and events

Rather than focusing on team-building exercises within departments, organizations can encourage cross-departmental training programs or events. They may host these programs with the entire organization or in groups to encourage future collaboration between specific departments. Team-building exercises involve activities that encourage participants to work together more effectively. These activities can help individuals get to know one another better, both personally and professionally. They can also help practice teamwork skills, such as communication.

Hosting in-person events also provides opportunities for members of different groups to meet and interact with one another. These programs can align with its overall vision and goals. For example, organizations may implement professional development training to improve skills, such as customer services, time management or using particular technology tools. Organizations can also organize events aimed at increasing awareness about particular topics, such as diversity in the workplace.

7. Encourage communication

Encouraging open, honest and regular communication throughout the organization can help different departments and individuals feel more comfortable interacting. It can also prompt more socialization amongst diverse groups. Depending on the organization's size, it may host monthly meetings to bring together all departments to discuss company updates. During these meetings, managers can highlight accomplishments or other significant news happening in their department. When everyone understands what is happening beyond their group, it can create a stronger team mentality. If the organization cannot host in-person meetings, it may consider sharing similar information via a monthly organization-wide newsletter or virtual event.

Related: 14 Communication Strategies To Overcome Communication Barriers in the Workplace

8. Use collaboration tools

Leaders can make it easier for departments and individuals to communicate across the organization by implementing collaboration tools and software. These tools can cover a wide variety of business needs, such as communication. Instant messaging tools enable individuals to communicate across different departments or floors of an office without having to leave their desks. Remote organizations benefit from using virtual meeting software to provide face-to-face interactions and keep employees connected despite the physical barriers.

Sharing resources and information is an important component of breaking down silos. Organizations can find numerous tools and software that enable employees to share and access documents through the internet or cloud services. These tools are especially helpful for cross-department collaborations. For example, the marketing and IT departments may not have access to the same data. With collaboration tools, they can share information with each other that will help them fulfill the project's tasks.

Related: 65 Collaboration Tools To Promote Teamwork

9. Reduce physical barriers

Silos within an organization can sometimes be physical. If particular departments or employees never see one other, it can make it more difficult for them to interact. When possible, organizations may consider restructuring their offices to make them feel more open. Their chosen layout may also depend on the amount of office space they have. For example, some organizations place several departments on the same floor and employees work in cubicles alongside their department teammates. This partially open layout enables easier communication across departments because people can walk to one another's desk areas.

Other organizations use fully open layouts with no partitions, walls or other barriers separating employees' workspaces. This layout can allow everyone to see and understand what their colleagues do at work and communicate easily. Offices can also restructure their environments in smaller ways. For example, they can encourage the use of shared spaces such as break rooms. Having designated areas where employees can congregate and interact with one another can help boost interactions and socialization amongst different workgroups.

10. Continue monitoring progress

After taking steps to break down silos, leaders monitor and evaluate the results. Depending on the goals they set, they may have measurable data that shows whether the organization is meeting key metrics more effectively since implementing silo-breaking efforts. For example, if the organization aimed to improve its reputation, departments may have data that determine whether customer satisfaction ratings improved during that period.

For less tangible results, leaders can continue promoting open communication by gaining insights directly from departments and employees. These leaders can interview department managers to gain their feedback about the changes they have noticed. They may also send out surveys to employees to get their insights. If employees and managers describe positive changes, it can show that the efforts succeeded in breaking down silos. Otherwise, leaders may need to identify ways to further reduce or eliminate divisions within the organization to promote collaboration and communication.

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