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

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 26, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

For a business to be successful, it's important for employees to share ideas and work well together. Organizational silos can affect how employees interact with one another. As a manager, understanding the pros and cons of organizational silos can enable you to communicate effectively with every member of your team. In this article, we discuss the definition of organizational silos and how you can dismantle them.

Related: 9 Steps To Building a Successful Culture of Collaboration

What are organizational silos?

Organizational silos are structures that separate employees into individual groups. Although professionals work at the same company, they only communicate and collaborate with colleagues in the same silo as them. Organizational silos can form according to an employee's:

  • Department: Employees who have similar roles may create an organizational silo within their department. For example, at one website company, the copywriting team may have a separate silo than the editing team.

  • Rank within the company: Organizational silos can exist based on an employee's experience level. For instance, entry-level employees may share a silo that's distinguishable from the silo of managers. Employees who've worked at a company for a long time may share a silo that's different from new employees.

  • Geographical location: Geographical factors can refer to the location of an employee's office, such as a silo for the employees who work on the fourth floor of a building. Organizations with remote employees may have silos among employees who telecommute from the same region.

  • Schedule: Employees can form organizational silos among coworkers who work at the same time as them. For example, at a news station, the producers who organize the morning newscasts may share the same silo, while the producers over the evening show have their own group.

Why do organizational silos exist?

Organizational silos exist for reasons such as:

  • Employees find commonalities with one another. Employees may create friendships with coworkers with who they have something in common, which may make their work environment more pleasant.

  • Professionals want to include some and exclude others. If a professional has a positive work experience with a coworker, then they may want to continue working with them. Likewise, if they have a negative experience, then they may retreat to an organizational silo to avoid workplace conflict.

  • The organizational culture has frequently or recently changed. When a company implements change, the employees who worked at the company before the change may form a group that excludes the employees who arrived after the change. For example, a company expands, causing an influx of new personnel that limits interaction with experienced personnel.

Related: How To Improve Employee Morale and Job Satisfaction

How does an organizational silo form?

The causes of organizational silos can include:

Lack of awareness of company vision

Employees may be unaware of the company's overarching goal, which can create organizational silos. Suppose a nonprofit's overall mission is to serve senior citizens, but the employees are only concerned with accomplishing their individual goals. For example, the human resources department focuses on training new personnel, while the finances department focuses on attracting new donors, but there is little collaboration between each sector.

Competition between departments

Departments that compete against one another may unite in an organizational silo to do better than the opposing group. For instance, the manager of a retail store promises a high commission rate to the department that sells the most products. The jewelry team forms an organizational silo to compete with the children's clothing team.

Related: 46 Innovative Corporate Wellness Programs

Physical separation of employees

The physical distance of employees' workspaces can contribute to the creation of organizational silos. Employees may connect with colleagues who work in the same vicinity as them, which may be the same people they encounter on a daily basis. They may share the same communal spaces, such as break rooms or conference rooms, which increases their opportunities to communicate. They may not interact as often with coworkers who work on the other side of the building, for example.

Tolerance from management

Leaders who tolerate silos allow the culture of separate groups to exist. The relationship between managers can also influence the morale of lower-level employees. For instance, a business has two chief officers who manage their own departments, but they disagree on what leadership direction to take. The tension causes their staff members to create organizational silos within their respective departments.

Pros and cons of organizational silos

Organizational silos can present advantages and disadvantages for companies. Here are the benefits:

  • Employees can foster positive relationships with one another. Professionals who share the same silo may trust each other, which allows them to foster a positive workplace relationship.

  • People within the silo communicate effectively. With a close bond, employees can communicate new ideas with one another and collaborate effectively. They may also feel encouraged to share concerns and solve intergroup conflict.

  • Intradepartmental silos can produce quality work. High collaboration and effective communication can increase employee productivity in the silo, which enables professionals to perform better at their jobs. For example, a silo that encompasses the social media team may compel creators to deliver quality content.

The disadvantages of organizational silos include:

  • There is limited interaction with people outside of the silo. While employees interact with people within their silo, they may not communicate with colleagues outside of their core group, even though they share the same employer.

  • Silos can cause resistance to change. Within the silo, professionals may enjoy the way they work so they are resistant to policies that disrupt their environments. For example, a new building that combines departmental offices may interfere with an organizational silo, and employees may find it challenging to adjust to the change.

  • People within silos may avoid cross-department collaboration. Employees may grow accustomed to working with others who share their silo. They may not have had opportunities to experience others' working styles or communication preferences, making cross-department collaboration more challenging.

How to break down organizational silos

To break down organizational silos and unify every member of your company, consider following these practices:

1. Promote a shared vision

It's important that employees understand how their work contributes to the overall success of the company. Promoting a shared vision can create mutual understanding, which can allow collaboration between all of your employees, not just those who previously shared the same groups. Contemplate what you want your organization to accomplish and how your employees can work together to achieve it. You can share the goal on company-wide correspondence, such as mass emails or newsletters.

Related: Holistic Approach in Business: Definition, Characteristics and Benefits

2. Communicate as a team

As a manager, you can encourage cohesive communication by using these methods:

  • Recognizing employees for their hard work: When employees perform well, you can recognize them across departments, which can show your colleagues that you value their work regardless of their rank or position. Sharing universal praise can also give your employees a chance to congratulate one another, allowing them to create deeper connections.

  • Sharing names and pictures of employees: On newsletters and other materials, consider writing the names and job titles of employees and attaching a headshot. Employees may be more likely to collaborate with coworkers who they recognize, and it may be helpful if they understood one another's roles.

  • Attending assembly meetings: Consider reserving time at regular intervals to gather with everyone who works in your organization, either virtually or in person. You can initiate icebreakers to allow employees to get to know one another, and you can encourage open discussions to allow professionals to share new perspectives about how to reach company goals.

3. Implement team-building exercises

Team-building exercises can encourage cross-departmental collaboration among your employees. Invite every employee to a shared space and instruct them to partner with coworkers outside of their normal groups. Have the employees complete a series of tasks, which allows them to combine their skills and work together.

Related: Building Rapport: Tips and Examples

4. Track organizational progress

Monitor your progress in dismantling organizational silos to determine the success of your strategies. You can review the morale in the workplace to see if your employees are collaborating more. You can also design forums or surveys to retrieve feedback on how your employees perceive one another that worked outside their initial groups. Apply the feedback to future techniques so you can continue to make progress.

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