Breaking Down Silos at Work

Christine Courtney
Christine Courtney

What are silos? 

What are silos? How do they form? Why are they so strong? What can we do to break them down and create a more connected workplace?

Working in Silos refer to the isolation and lack of communication between different departments or teams within an organization. They can form naturally as a result of the specialization and focus of each department, but they can also be reinforced by a lack of trust, communication, and shared goals.

Why are silos so strong? 

There are many reasons why our silo mentality strengthened over the past few years, and most of them are good.   Teams that worked for the first time in hybrid or remote situations buckled down and our lens tightened as we worked alone at our desks and laptops communicating with our bosses or our direct reports. We became very productive and focused, keeping all the balls in the air during the pandemic. 

Working in Silos helped us survive in the short term, but they don’t let us thrive in the long term. Think of bunkers that can help survive an air strike, but you wouldn’t want to live there long.   

We have been living in silos for too long, and it is taking its toll. Employees are burned out more than ever. According to a recent poll, Gallup reported 74% of employees experienced burnout on the job. One thing smart and innovative HR managers, team leads and CEOs are looking at is how to keep all the productivity that our strong silos have created, but strengthen how our employees feel by helping managers create intentional links between the silos. 

With the great resignation showing no signs of slowing, we must change business as usual and use a more connected approach.   The more connected an employee feels to their organization, the harder it is to leave.  The number of American workers quitting their jobs hit record highs recently, with 4.5 million people leaving jobs, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report. 

 A recent BetterUp survey showed that if workers feel like they belong, companies also benefit. In their study, high belonging was linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days.  

How are we breaking down Silos in the workplace?

So how do we do it when still working in this hybrid world?  

Start by creating intentional LINKS between the silos, creating more engaged, connected and content employees.   

Silos at Work

The focus on strong SILOS becomes a focus on your LINKS 

L – Leadership Training Program 

  • Train everyone (in interdepartmental cohorts) in leadership for 90 minutes a month and see the benefits add up – future leaders trained, employees feel connected to the organization and each other, team members learn communication tools and improve their resilience to burnout and stay longer 
  • Easier now than ever to schedule, thanks to engaging remote options and companies that make it super easy and fun 
  • Teams and Individuals feel immediately valued

I – Inclusive Brainstorming 

  • Have quarterly meetings where the CEO or Executive team pose a challenge or opportunity that the company is facing, and have everyone from different departments contribute ideas and ask questions. 
  • Invite an outside facilitator to lead the brainstorming process, so that everyone, including department heads, can problem solve and participate, instead of bearing the burden of the facilitator. 
  • Team members learn how others solve problems, while feeling connected and valued. 

N – North Star – Reconnect to the Common purpose - Create a Unified Vision

  • Help employees keep the big picture in mind by finding ways to connect them to the purpose of the company.  In our silos, we are connected to our own goals, KPIs, and department goals, but sometimes we lose sight of our common purpose. 
  • Some ideas on how to find/create a Unified Vision
    • Lead them in semi-annual SWOT activities with cross departmental participation
    • Send employee stories of success and your customers' success and struggles, 
    • Create an employee online daily photo with a story that appears on their computer about an employee or a customer experience

K – Knowledge Sharing

  • Have department heads, senior managers, and project managers meet weekly with their boss to share their priorities, goals and pain points. This will increase links between silos and cut down on the amount individuals have to wait to track each other down and get bottlenecked. 
  • Free Flow of Information - 
  • Share Information - 

S – Systematize your 5 c’s of Company Culture 

  • Criss cross – create or have people volunteer for cross functional teams that can problem solve the issues of connecting silos, employee engagement or leadership training.  
  • Communication plan – ensure department heads meet with every employee weekly in a one-on-one meeting.  Management Tools - Train managers in better communication and more engaging meetings, so people don’t suffer from meeting fatigue. 
  • Collaboration Tools – Team Collaboration and  interdepartmental collaboration opportunities that the CEO or leadership team champion will more likely get participation and enthusiasm 
  • Change it up – the brain becomes engaged when change happens – make small changes every once in a while to keep employees agile and interested.  This can be changes to the office for employees trekking in, making commutes easier by changing the office hours for winter months, or giving employees an outside coach once a month to help them achieve goals and connect them back to the company.  Younger employees we notice lately are loving this perk. 
  • Celebrations – For employees in the office, offer occasional happy hours or thematic treats you bring to the office. Have employees nominate and recognize employees from other departments, and post nominations on internal email or website. 

To break down silos, it is important to create trust and encourage collaboration between teams. This can be done through open communication, shared goals, and a recognition of each team's strengths and contributions. It is also important to provide resources, such as training and mentorship, that can help bring teams together and build a strong sense of shared purpose. Additionally, creating opportunities for teams to interact, such as team-building activities and social events, can help foster a stronger connection between departments and create a more unified and cohesive workplace

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Christine Courtney

By Christine Courtney

Christine is the President of The Leadership Program (TLP). Additionally, she teaches workshops for companies and coach’s leaders inside her company and out. Christine has an obsessive passion for helping people step into their leadership and make positive change in their lives and in the world. She completed Stanford University's Executive Leadership Program, a CEO member of Vistage and Chief and a graduate of The University of the Arts. Her other roles have included mom, spouse, soccer coach, block party organizer and chief dishwasher. The Leadership Program has been providing leadership development training for 30 years. Their facilitators are a magical combination of educator, business leader, and performer. They are highly sought after for keynote addresses and conference workshops nationwide. They help companies small and large find dynamic ways to engage employees in continued learning. Their clients include Brooklyn Brewery, PwC, DBI, Visa, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Facebook, Mount Sinai, Tradeweb and more. They also work with thousands of NYC public school kids every week bringing leadership development and social emotional learning into classrooms and afterschool clubs through arts and sports programs.