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Avoiding Silo Mentality Part 2: Warning Signs

Written by Animalz Crew | Jul 31, 2017

In part one of this series, we learned that the silo mentality sucks. Not only does it affect how your company runs internally, but it also harms your customers. The longer this mentality is allowed to grow and fester, the faster your company will start to crumble from the inside out.

We also discussed how, contrary to how it might intuitively seem, silo mentality starts from the top-down. It may demonstrate itself most obviously within the employees of the company, but it's really the management who unknowingly (or knowingly) encourage silos to form, and who also have the power to break them down.

Best case scenario, you aren't in a silo yet and you recognize the warning signs before you get into trouble. The hardest time to recognize that you are, in fact, in a silo is when you're already in too deep. It just seems normal to you. But if you take the time to step back and look for the warning signs, you may be surprised. Do any of these seem familiar?


Everyone in the Company Should Be Looking for the Signs

It's important to remember that silo mentality starts slowly. You won't get to work one day and suddenly find yourself in scene out of Game of Thrones with everyone fighting, well, everyone.


But if you're not looking, you'll miss the early signs, which will turn into just how the business runs. Silos look a bit different to the general employee than to management, so what should you be looking for?

Warning Signs Within the Company

It may seem like looking for warning signs as a general employee is impossible. You may not have been there for very long, so there's no way for you to know if “everyday procedures” used to be something better. But if you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be working in a silo:

  • Are different teams doing the same things? If teams aren't communicating about who is responsible for what, they'll start building in redundant steps to make sure nothing is falling through the cracks. But in reality, these redundancies are wasting time and money, making both teams who invested energy into this task frustrated.
  • Is everyone working towards different goals? Whether it's the “big picture” goal of a project or the main goals of the company itself, having everyone aligned on the explicit goals ensures that they know what to prioritize. You should be constantly revisiting these goals to realign anyone who has strayed.
  • Have you been collaborating only within your own team? Collaboration is essential for success. There's no question about it. Most companies know this and will make a halfhearted attempt to informally make it part of their process. But collaboration should be built into your workflow as a formal process in order to ensure effective teamwork, keeping your company working at its best.

What's the common thread here? All of this silo behavior leads to a similar result: wasted time, money and energy. Revisit these questions every few months to make sure you're not slowly entering a silo — it's much harder to come out of once you're already in deep.

Warning Signs for Management

While it's important for everyone to constantly be on the look out for silo warning signs, as we've discussed before, silos begin and end with management. It's those in management who are the ones with the ability to make impactful changes within the company. If management is moving towards silos, the rest of the company will follow.

If your company is experiencing a lull in productivity or success, take notice on whether workers or management are blaming this on:

  • The system or tools. Just because you don't have the most advanced technology, doesn't mean you can't do your best work. In fact, someone else in the company may know how to do what you're struggling with — you just need to look outside of your silo.
  • A lack of employee training. Team members may think that they need training in a certain procedure or to handle a new tool before they can use it. Instead, it's more likely that they can learn from someone internally who already knows how to do it, saving time and needless stress.
  • Lack of worker maturity. If team members seem to be slacking it may not be due to a lack of maturity but rather a lack of guidance and motivation. Reaching out and making sure that all new team members, not just the ones in your department, have the resources they need to grow can make a big difference. In fact, all of your team members need a little push now and again, make sure no one feels neglected.

Blaming factors that are “out of their control” rather than taking responsibility for helping the company improve is a sign that people feel it's up to someone else to fix it and that they're doing the best they can at their own job. The reality is this: it's up to the business leaders to work together with the rest of the company to fix problems that arise and steer away from the silo mentality.

Dealing with Silo Mentality Changes with Size

Though it's more common in larger companies (purely because of number) silo mentality can happen to anyone. Where size does make a difference, though, is based on how far into the silo mentality you are.

As mentioned before, the deeper in you are and the longer the mentality has been allowed to grow, the more difficult it will be to come out. That's why looking for warning signs and preventing it is the best solution — but that doesn't mean it's impossible to come out of.

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, championed a “Work-Out” process that has been well-known to help break down silos within a company.

[Adapted from iSixSigma]

The purpose of this process is to help improve collaboration and speed up decision making processes by bypassing various organizational boundaries. It usually consists of people from all different parts of the company coming together into one room to discuss the issues at hand; by the time they leave the room they have a specific plan to fix it. It's then presented to the rest of the company and the senior executives to get the final sign-off.

Here we can see why size matters.

  • Within a small company, a singular meeting of every member of the company is sufficient to hammer out a plan of action. And because the more senior members are present at the meeting, everyone can begin working on the solution as soon as the meeting concludes.
  • Within a larger company, there are more issues to be solved with more team members involved. More creative solutions must be called upon to make sure everyone has a voice — whether it's through a forum-style discussion or through having everyone submit their contributions ahead of time.

The most important part of these sessions within either type of company is making an immediate, but well-informed decision and sticking with it. Letting discussions drag out gives teams more time to doubt their plan rather than moving on a solution. Moving quickly on a plan with everyone rallied behind it will kickstart your company into breaking down the walls of the silo.

Never Stop Looking

Just because you don't notice any signs now doesn't mean that they will never appear. As your company grows, the signs may start appearing slowly when you least expect them. Constantly check in every few months to make sure you're ready the initial stages can help you effectively take preventative measures to curb the silo mentality before it even forms.

In the final chapter of our three-part series, we'll discuss some tools that you can use within your company to help increase collaboration and communication. We'll discuss a few different organization and project management methods to help you find the perfect one for your company.