Fix Silo Mentality
July 14, 2017

What is Silo Mentality? Understanding Silo Mentality in the Workplace

Teamwork

As you might have guessed, the name comes from those large, grain-storing metal structures you'll spot scattered across farmland. But what about silo mentality in the workplace?

Silo mentality is an attitude that makes departments or groups within an organization less likely to share knowledge or collaborate with one another.

Sound scary? It should. If left unchecked, it will negatively impact even the most profitable company. It's a pitfall that can happen anywhere, regardless of your company's size or structure.

We built Gliffy to help teams share ideas and fight silo mentality. Our goal is to get teams out of their silos and onto the same page. While we wish all you needed was a great diagramming tool to break those silos down, there are some additional strategies that go a long way, too.

How Does Silo Mentality in the Workplace Slow Teams Down?

For an organization to be successful, teams or departments have to operate within their own areas of expertise, but they also need to be communicating with one another to move the company forward as a whole. Balancing the need to share information with avoiding information overload is a challenging, but necessary task. 

Internal Effects of Silo Mentality

A few things tend to happen when employees keep information to themselves:

  • There is an increase in inefficiencies and redundancies between departments
  • Teams or departments may begin to fight over responsibilities and ownership
  • Uncertainty around responsibility and ownership creates a lack of clear accountability
  • There is a general sense of unease within the organization's culture

This all ends in the same result, a lack of trust: Departments no longer trust each other to complete their tasks or handle responsibilities. Employee morale takes a dive and people feel isolated and insecure. Individuals feel like their superiors don't care about them, while teams may feel like they're undervalued within the organization as a whole.

When teams stop talking, feedback stops circulating and projects stagnate. Groups in the organization are unable to learn from one another, putting them at risk of losing time and resources while making the same mistakes. Worse, when problems do arise, it's unclear who should handle their resolution or take the initiative to help.

External Effects of Silo Mentality

Silo mentality doesn't just affect your company internally — your customers suffer, too. Redundancies start popping up in the most unexpected places, while other areas are left with gaping holes. Imagine this: you're a video site and a customer is going through your on-boarding process while making an account. They're introduced to the three different features you offer.

  • First, they learn how to upload a video — how to title the video, add it to a folder, and so on.
  • Second, they learn to create and edit a video with your video editor. They are again shown how to upload the video.
  • Last, they learn how to share their video by uploading it and selecting their teammates. They learn how a member of their team can also use the service.

While each step is teaching them something new, they're also learning how to upload a video three times. 

This sort of thing happens when teams who don't talk are in charge of different, yet overlapping features. With a disjointed user-facing experience, they've both wasted their user's time as well as their own while creating the redundant tutorials.

This decline in customer experience reflects poorly on both the company and the product. The resulting feedback loop of negativity can cost the company both the morale of its employees and the business of its customers.

How Does Silo Mentality Form?

Silo Progression

Silos often happen without anyone noticing because their formation is slow and “natural”. The thing to remember is that the problem is not with the silos themselves, but with the mentality accompanying them.

Silos are more common in large companies because the larger the company, the harder it is to communicate. Silos often start when employees develop a greater sense of loyalty to their individual team or department than that of the organization as a whole. This clique-oriented culture makes collaboration outside core teams more challenging.

That said, silos don't start with teams or individuals — it begins at the top. If management doesn't actively encourage cross-functional and organization-wide learning, they lay the foundation for these silos. When a culture of communication and transparency is fostered by management, it will continue to trickle down to the rest of the organization.

How to Stop Silo Mentality from Forming

Silo mentality is the result of a lack of communication. To avoid it, teams must focus on continuously improving the way they loop each other in. That’s easier said than done! A culture of communication needs to start from the very top if there is any hope of it becoming part of the foundation of the company.

Chart explaining the work-out process used to break down silos.

Breaking Down Silos in Large Companies

There are more issues to solve, more team members involved, and large-scale goals. Creative solutions like forums, cross-functional teams and events, or rotational programs within the company can help connect people across larger organizations.

Addressing Silo Mentality in Small Companies

Though it's more common in larger companies (purely because of numbers) 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. The purpose of this process is to help improve collaboration by getting everyone bought in to the solution: breaking down the silos.

Communication is the Key to Stopping Silo Formation

At its core, silo mentality in business is caused by a lack of connection and communication. Giving your team the tools it needs to share ideas, explain processes, and address the fact that not everyone has the same types of expertise will help stop silos from forming in your company.

Check out Gliffy’s Confluence, Jira, and Online apps as invaluable ways to help your employees embrace that high level of ongoing communication. Check out our visual solutions on the Diagrams for Businesses page or get started with a free trial of Gliffy today.

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