Project & Resource Management

Working in Silos Negatively Impacts Projects: Here’s How to Break Them Down

Image of a cross-functional team of four creative professional working together on a project

It’s no secret that collaboration and clear communication are key to great teamwork. Yet many businesses are made up of teams and individuals struggling to work together and communicate effectively. If this sounds like your business, your teams may be feeling the impact of silo mentality.

What is Silo Mentality?

Silo mentality is when teams working within the same business withhold information from others, which amounts to information hoarding. This can impact workflows throughout the business, stop projects in their tracks and cause issues with consistency between the work produced by different teams.

So, why does this happen? There are a few reasons. Firstly, personal feelings can get in the way of efficient working. Pride and ego can lead to individuals withholding information from others, as can anxiety around important information falling into the wrong hands.

Another common reason for information not being shared properly is poor organization. Without the right systems in place to support information sharing, documents can get lost in desktop folders, email threads, or hard copies may even gather dust in long-forgotten filing cabinets. 

Silo mentality can also impact ways of working. If teams do not frequently meet to discuss their plans and current workloads, two teams may end up doubling up on a project, wasting time and resource, or one department may move forward with a project that negatively affects the work of another.

What Silos in the Workplace Look Like

Imagine you work for a computer manufacturer. You’re part of the team responsible for the company’s marketing, which can cover everything from press releases to printing brochures. Much of your work depends on other teams sharing information with you, such as up-to-date product pricing, dates for product launches, project timelines, and other assets. When your colleagues fail to keep you in the loop or are cagey with information, your work comes to a standstill. That means no new marketing collateral, no new leads, and no new clients for the business.

Are There Any Positives to Silo Mentality?

The short story is that while silos are impossible to eradicate completely, there are more benefits to breaking them down than encouraging employees to continue to work in a way that doesn’t foster collaboration. Some may argue that withholding information ensures security or helps protect delicate organizational power balances; however, this is short-sighted.

Siloed working places constraints on the business at every turn. Complacency is normalized, meaning the business will never improve. It prevents informed decision-making, blocks certain teams from functioning effectively, and ultimately breaks down the efficiency of the entire supply chain, from market research to sales. When teams don’t collaborate, everyone suffers, including the end consumer.

How to Break Down Silos

Now that we’re clear on why silo mentality is bad let’s talk about how to remedy it. By making the below improvements within an organization, data-driven decisions are championed, company goals become more attainable, collaboration is the norm, and the business presents as a united front.

Set Shared Goals

A common reason teams retreat into silos is because they want to protect their department and its members. While that is noble, it leaves other teams out in the cold and can end up negatively impacting the bottom line.

When businesses set top-level goals that trickle down to the department and the individual level, teams are provided with shared objectives, or OKRs. This encourages unity and collaborative working, removing the idea that teams only need to focus on their success. Instead, all employees are encouraged to work towards the company's success as a united force.

To make sure this sticks, top-level management needs to repeat these shared goals regularly and ensure that all teams are aware of them. When team-level goals are set, these should feed into the top-level goals and be reviewed holistically with the objectives set by other teams. This ensures that each team’s goals are complementary, not incompatible.

Always Champion ‘Boundaryless’ Collaboration

Breaking down silos at work requires company culture to change. This is a challenging task that begins with consistency. Collaboration should be encouraged whenever possible, ensuring that teams communicate and work together to achieve their goals.

This can be as simple as setting up weekly get-togethers to discuss what each team is working on or monthly town hall meetings. Once everyone has more visibility on what other areas of the business are doing, collaboration at a project level can be introduced. Every project can benefit from outside input; representatives from each department can act as a liaison between teams or can support in an advisory capacity. This encourages employees to get involved in projects throughout the organization, not just those managed within their team.

Use Collaborative Tools That Make Working Towards a Shared Goal Easy

One issue that can lead to silo mentality is individuals struggling to adapt to changes introduced by modern working environments. Previously, it was much easier to work in silos because today's technology didn’t exist.

The wide range of tools and technologies available to businesses today makes collaboration easier than ever before. That removes many excuses for siloed working, including lack of access to information or an inability to share information. 

For example, many companies use CRM software to track sales. These systems can also be used to provide oversight of the company's progress toward its goals. Giving everyone access to this information helps develop transparency between teams and encourages understanding each other's work. It can also help individuals spot opportunities to help colleagues in other teams. 

Other tools such as messaging software like Slack or Microsoft Teams and cloud-based storage platforms such as OneDrive or SharePoint allow teams to share files and information in seconds. If the company's best practice is to upload all documents to a central database, employees can search these databases to find what they need rather than waiting for files or data to be shared directly.

Even when certain documents cannot be shared so widely due to security reasons, employees can control who has access to confidential documents while making it easy to share information.

Encourage Team Building Activities for Breaking Down Silos

Teams often struggle to collaborate because they don’t know each other well enough or have a limited understanding of what other teams do. They can’t be blamed for not reaching out to each other if they don’t have the information available to do so.

Group training can include cross-departmental exercises, workshops, and away days that encourage socializing and learning. 

Facilitate Open Communication

As mentioned, siloed working can never be completely eradicated in any organization that sees its employees broken up into teams or departments. However, this should not lead to breakdowns in communication.

Establishing opportunities for open communication between departments will help lower the walls between teams without destroying their structure completely. One idea is to set up recurring meetings that allow plans and information to be shared.

Remember, Collaboration Begins at the Top

As with anything relating to workplace culture, breaking down silo mentality begins and ends with those at the top. Great managers lead by example, which means being the first to take steps in the right direction.

If managers continue to work in a way that blocks collaboration or prevents the information from being shared outside their team, without considering the business's overall health, their team will likely do the same.

Conversely, if they are open to working more collaboratively with other teams, sharing documents and files in ways that align with best practices, and providing frequent updates on what they’re working on with the wider business, their team will be encouraged to follow suit.

Former GE CEO Jack Welch hated silos and advocated for ‘Boundaryless Organizations’ that saw colleagues from across the organization working together to solve problems. The reason this worked at GE is because the movement started at the top.

Silo mentality can also impact the vision managers have for their team. It can be tempting to focus solely on your team's success, but the business will suffer if you are setting goals that conflict with those of another department. It may be wise to consider a unified vision and set team goals alongside the leaders of other departments.

How Collaborative Working Will Benefit Your Projects

At a project level, collaborative working has many benefits. When teams work together, projects run more smoothly, customers receive better care, and services improve. A better workplace culture is fostered with a wider circle of colleagues to build relationships with, less frustration building up between departments and more opportunities for collaboration.

The bottom line is that open communication between departments means employees get the right information to make the best decisions for their projects. Although there will always be some barriers between teams, the advice above can help limit the negative impact at the project level. This helps create a happier working environment and leads to better work, which ultimately benefits the business in the long term.

How Forecast Supports Collaboration

At Forecast, we champion transparency and open communication. Our platform creates a collaborative space where users can update each other, share information, and stay on track with their projects. With everything from time tracking, to task management, to resource management under one roof, Forecast makes it easy for you to work together to produce the best work possible.

To break down silo mentality and begin working collaboratively, sign up for a 14-day free trial of Forecast here.

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How to Boost Your Business with Advanced Analytics

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