Overcoming Workplace Silos: Building Bridges to Boost Productivity


5 Oct, 2023

In almost any workplace with more than one person, you’ll find something called “workplace silos.” It happens because our minds naturally focus on what’s immediately in front of us and what’s most relevant to our personal world. As a result, we often find ourselves creating silos – isolated pockets of information, communication, and collaboration.

Workplace silos become more of a problem when teams when teams build boundary walls between their own unit and other areas within the organisation. These silos can have big effects, making it harder for everyone to work together effectively.

How Workplace Silos Create Problems:

Limited Interaction: Workplace silos often mean that people from different teams or departments don’t talk or work together much. This can make people feel isolated and lead to misunderstandings and conflicts between teams.

Resisting Change: Employees may be reluctant to adopt new processes, technologies, or ideas that come from outside their silo. They may prefer to stick to their familiar routines and methods, even if they are inefficient or outdated.

Avoidance of cross- team collaboration. Employees may not seek or offer help from or to other silos, even when they face complex problems that require diverse skills and perspectives. They may view other silos as competitors or threats, rather than partners or allies.

Poor inter-team communication and collaboration. Employees may not share information, knowledge, or feedback with other silos, resulting in duplication of efforts, waste of resources, and missed opportunities. They may also fail to coordinate their actions and align their goals with other silos, leading to delays, errors, and conflicts.

Mistrust and rivalry between teams. Employees may not trust or respect each other across silos, resulting in a lack of cooperation and collaboration. They may also engage in unhealthy competition or blame games, rather than focusing on the common objectives and outcomes.

Closed mindset. Employees may not be open to learning from or innovating with other silos. They may have a narrow or biased view of the organisation and its environment, limiting their creativity and adaptability.

Harm to productivity and output levels. Employees may not be able to perform at their best when they work in silos. They may face difficulties in solving problems, delivering quality products or services, meeting customer expectations, and achieving organisational goals.

Inability to act quickly or take advantage of opportunities. Employees may not be able to respond effectively to changing market conditions, customer needs, or competitive threats when they work in silos. They may miss out on opportunities for growth, innovation, or improvement.

Inability to make informed, data-driven decisions. Employees may not have access to the relevant data or insights from other silos when they work in silos. They may rely on incomplete, inaccurate, or outdated information, leading to poor decision-making and outcomes.

Negative impact on inventory, supply chain, distribution, marketing, and sales. Employees may not be able to optimise the flow of goods and services across the organisation when they work in silos. They may encounter bottlenecks, inefficiencies, errors, or losses in the various stages of the value chain.

Strategies to Break Down Employee Silos

Breaking down employee silos in a workplace can be challenging, but it is essential for the success of the business. Here are some ways to achieve this:

Build a unified vision mentality and set common goals for the organisation: Communicate this vision and mission clearly and frequently to all staff members and encourage them to share their feedback and ideas. Encourage employees to work together towards a common goal. This will help them understand how their work contributes to the overall success of the business.

Create more opportunities and pathways for cross-team communication and interaction: Encourage employees to work together on projects that require diverse skills and perspectives. Provide opportunities for employees to learn from each other and exchange best practices.

Strengthen transparency and document and share information across teams: To solve the problem of “You can’t help what you can’t see”, all staff within a team need to be able to see at a glance what projects are being worked on, and who is working on them. Encourage open communication and sharing of information between teams. This will help employees understand how their work affects other teams and  teams.

Incorporate collaboration tools. Use collaboration tools to enable employees to share information and work together more effectively between teams. These tools can include chat apps, video conferencing, project management software, document sharing platforms, such as tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Trello, or Jira. These tools can help employees to stay connected, informed, and engaged with their colleagues across the organisation.

Provide incentives and bonuses that encourage cross- team collaboration: Celebrate the achievements and successes of teams and individuals who demonstrate cooperation and collaboration. Provide feedback and recognition for employees who contribute to breaking down silos and improving organisational performance. Reward employees who collaborate with other teams and  teams. This will encourage them to work together more often.

Assign cross- team liaisons and promote cross-training and internal transfers: Assign employees to act as liaisons between different teams or  teams. This will help them understand the needs of each team and facilitate communication between them.

Map Customer Flows: Track all the ways that customers interact with your business, and map out how the information flows with them, taking action to adjust each tiny block or trouble spot where silos may have been formed.

Implement team-building exercises and events: Encourage team-building exercises that promote collaboration, such as brainstorming sessions or problem-solving activities. Encourage employees to get to know each other on a personal and professional level. Organise social events, team-building activities, and informal chats that allow employees to interact and bond with each other. This can help reduce conflicts, misunderstandings, and stereotypes among employees and create a more cohesive and supportive work environment .

Lead by example. As a business owner or manager, demonstrate cross- team collaboration in your own interactions and decisions. Unless you have senior executives and managers actively walking the talk of collaboration, then your efforts at breaking down silos are akin to pushing a car with four flat tyres up a hill

Workplace silos have a significant impact on an organisation’s overall effectiveness and success. By fostering collaboration, open communication, and a culture of unity, businesses can unlock hidden potential, enhance adaptability, and increase productivity.

Breaking down workplace silos is not just about improving internal dynamics; it’s about positioning the organisation to respond agilely to change, seize opportunities, and thrive in an ever-evolving business landscape. Embracing a collaborative culture isn’t just a choice; it’s an imperative for those seeking sustained growth and excellence in today’s competitive world.

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HR Author and Lecturer with over 25 years' experience in human resources and workplace relations in Australia. Lead Author of Instant HR Policies & Procedures, NDIS Direct Employment HR Manual, and Employee Performance Reviews: Tips, Templates and Tactics.

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