7 ways to boost collaboration and eliminate organizational silos

Making the most of your data can be challenging when it’s isolated and fragmented in silos. Organizational silos can negatively impact your company’s profitability, culture, innovation potential, and budget. Content silos lead to a breakdown in communication between departments because content gets isolated from other teams within your organization.

Long-term use of silos is difficult to eliminate. Fortunately, your business can implement several strategies to improve how your teams work together. Simplifying your tech stack and reducing complexity can help you achieve your organizational goals. Learn more about the causes and challenges of organizational silos and steps you can take to increase cross-team collaboration.

What are organizational silos?

The term “silo” is often used as a metaphor to describe an isolated bubble or team that operates independently from others in the same organization. Businesses may not even realize they are naturally creating silos by structuring their departments to function separately according to various needs. For instance, a company may separate its experts according to their department, rank, schedule, specialization, or location.

Organizations isolating their employees this way often leads to delays and inefficient communication. Additionally, isolated teams are more likely to focus on individual department goals rather than the company’s bigger picture. This means employees only communicate and collaborate with others in the same silo, even if they all work for the same company. Reducing silos provides the opportunity for more effective cross-silo collaboration.

The causes of organizational silos

Workplace silos come from various root causes, including:

1. Physical separation

Without the right tools and resources, physical distance between team members can create organizational silos. Employees in one office or location might connect in communal spaces, but they may not collaborate with those in another office or who work remotely. When the entire company is remote, or employees work in the field, it can exacerbate silos.

2. Silo mentality

A silo mentality occurs when teams think only inside their own department bubble. This is often a natural result of individuals laser-focused on their daily tasks. In some cases, management may even encourage a silo mentality as a strategy for establishing a support network for specific organizational functions. 

A silo mentality thrives on individual efforts, which can make it challenging for other team members to access content they did not create.

3. Competition between departments

A silo mentality can also contribute to a culture of competition that impacts other departments rather than supporting collaborative teams. Team members competing for incentives or resources that only serve their department will likely focus on their own deadlines.

Team silos often make employees see others as adversaries. For example, management rewarding a specific department with an increased budget creates favoritism and can cause employees to participate in unhealthy competition.

4. Tolerance from management

Different leadership styles can unintentionally play into organizational silos. Within cross-team projects, leaders can inadvertently create an organizational silo by not promoting interactions between departments. Lack of communication and failure to prioritize a unified organizational culture can influence employees to do the same. Prioritization of individual department goals can often make promoting collaborative teams an afterthought.

5. Lack of focus on the company vision

Management that fails to communicate effectively and prioritize the business vision lays the foundation for departmental silos. Team members become focused on their own goals rather than the overarching objectives of the business. For instance, there may be little collaboration between the finance and human resources departments because they’re unaware of how their goals connect.

Siloed teams may not collaborate if they don’t understand how their goals are related

The challenges of organizational silos

A silo mentality can quickly create a negative work environment at every level, affecting your employees and customer’s experiences. Here are the most common challenges that occur when working in silos.

1. Inability to access important content

Organizational silos often lead to content silos, which means departments keep their important content in separate platforms or applications. This makes it difficult for team members to see real-time content. Silo culture also discourages content sharing, potentially leading to poor content quality overall.

2. Potential for poor work culture

Rivalry between departments can occur as a side effect of using silos, sometimes resulting in a blame culture. Companies may see a lack of accountability as competition increases and collaboration diminishes. Employees may forget they are playing on the same team. A performance-oriented environment that thrives on isolating teams can create blaming and other destructive dynamics in the workplace.

3. Security and compliance concerns

Working in silos with inefficient communication makes it extremely challenging to track, access, collect, and store sensitive data or content. Isolated team members are likely to store data on various applications, which may create data privacy risks and a lack of transparency.

Saving sensitive content in multiple places reduces transparency and increases privacy and security risks

4. Diminished organizational alignment

Employees are prone to make mistakes when a lack of communication and collaboration exists. Departments can stray from company values and goals if they each create their own standards and short-term solutions.

5. Increased workload and decline in innovation

Silos will eventually affect an organization’s customer experience. Departments that do not freely share information create gaps in the customer journey, causing a negative end-user impression.

For instance, silos inevitably inhibit content-sharing and communication, making it impossible for a business to employ an omnichannel experience. Meanwhile, poor delegation and collaboration mean team members work harder to achieve simple tasks. Instead of focusing their efforts on innovation and sharing ideas, employees become disconnected.

7 ways to increase cross-team collaboration across organizational silos

You can help prevent silos from disengaging your team members by encouraging cross-collaborative communication at every level. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Set measurable goals

Start reducing organizational silos by setting common goals your team can achieve. For instance, using the SMART goal method, your team leaders can create objectives that are:

  • Specific: Use precise, clear verbs that document action
  • Measurable: Use numbers, percentages, or standard units to monitor and track progress
  • Achievable: Set intermediate, attainable objectives that plan the steps to accomplishing long-term goals
  • Relevant: Align objectives with corresponding goals that will achieve meaningful change
  • Time-based: Attach reasonable timelines to objectives that allow for enough time between action and outcome

SMART goals are just one example of how leaders inspire complementary strategies to address inefficiencies. Once company goals are set, connect and align each department’s work with those goals. This way, your teams understand exactly how their individual efforts contribute to accomplishing a greater goal.

2. Encourage cross-departmental collaboration

Present opportunities for collaboration. Get your teams comfortable with working together with people outside of their departments. You might establish cross-functional teams for specific projects to reinforce strong bonds among colleagues. This strategy lays the foundation for different team members to interact regularly and create partnerships.

Additionally, increased cross-functional collaboration helps reduce duplicative work, enabling your teams to focus their efforts on value-based goals.

3. Integrate and centralize data

Considering how organizational silos contribute to poor-quality data, a centralized database can help break down or prevent content silos. This requires collecting, organizing, and converting unstructured data on one single platform. With content silos out of the way, every team member can access, edit, and manage content as needed.

Centralized storage means everyone can more easily access, edit, share and manage content across teams

Centralized data means you won’t have to search endlessly through different channels to find a single document or file. Collaborative technology that keeps data in a centralized location also provides a highly detailed, secure audit trail that may not be possible with disconnected systems.

Likewise, establishing a central system of record makes it much more difficult for silos to form in the future. When everyone has access to necessary data, they’re better equipped to strategize together.

4. Nurture transparent communication

If you’re a decision-maker or manager, you have many responsibilities on your plate. One of these responsibilities is establishing clear communication throughout your organization. If one company leader withholds information from another due to a conflict, discord trickles down to employees. This type of environment can breed distrust and complacency.

An effective way to improve collaboration across organizational silos is to start from the top. When employees see how senior management interacts and communicates with one another, they prioritize the same free flow of information. Building a bridge for transparent communication in the workplace improves willingness to collaborate.

5. Implement a system of checks and balances

In a truly collaborative environment, no one team has the final say in decision-making. It’s important that teams are not dominating each other, as this creates unhealthy competition and rivalry. Establishing a system of checks and balances gives everyone a say and facilitates group decision-making and problem-solving.

It can also help promote transparency, accountability, and productivity. Additionally, checks and balances identify mistakes and omissions that could be costly to resolve.

6. Improve internal opportunities

Employees who work in silos may feel comfortable with the way things are, reducing their motivation to expand their horizons. The less transparency and visibility in the organization, the less likely employees will try to break out of their silos and pursue growth. Alternatively, employees may not see the benefit of engaging in cross-functional collaborative teams or re-skilling opportunities if they believe their careers will stay the same no matter what.

Team members are more likely to pursue growth opportunities if there’s more organizational transparency

Encouraging employees to pursue professional development opportunities shows they don’t have to keep their blinders on and focus only on their department’s needs. Helping them build the skills they need to take their careers to the next level establishes the importance of the big picture.

7. Prioritize team building

Working in silos vs. collaboration means your business may produce an environment where isolated teams don’t work well together. In addition to setting up projects across different teams, consider team-building exercises and events. Team-building exercises inspire employee engagement and productivity.

Whether you host a company-wide event, collaborative meeting, or fun game night, these activities give your teams time to relax and socialize. To practice working together, bring your employees to a shared space and have them complete a series of tasks. Such an activity will prompt them to cooperate and combine their skills to achieve a common goal. What seems like a fun icebreaker game at the moment leads to a better understanding of each other’s communication and working styles.

How to break down organizational silos

Breaking down organizational silos starts with changing the silo mentality. While siloed workflows won’t go away overnight, your organization can take small steps to enforce collaboration and communication. Here are some additional tips to set you up for success.

1. Promote a unified vision

Organizational silos tend to make employees focus only on individual or departmental goals. Eventually, these goals become the only objectives they see, causing them to lose sight of broader company goals. Employees need to understand what your organization is trying to accomplish.

Properly communicating a shared vision shifts their focus to include other departments and team members and lets them see how every team member fits into your organization’s purpose.

Promoting company goals helps team members see the bigger picture and focus on a shared vision rather than departmental goals

2. Implement collaboration training

Breaking free from content silos is an uphill battle. To support your team members as you shift to a unified workforce, consider providing training to support teamwork initiatives. For example, workshops about communication, accountability, and leadership give employees the insight they need to recognize the value of collaboration.

As an added benefit, this type of education raises awareness of the dangers of silos and how they stand in the way of growth and innovation. Training and upskilling opportunities enable teams to realize the benefits of working together.

3. Recognize employees for their hard work

As an administrator or leader in your organization, you can encourage cohesive communication by recognizing your hard-working employees across all departments. Public recognition allows teams to see you value their work and will enable them to congratulate one another.

For example, sending a monthly newsletter highlighting employee achievements helps team members understand one another’s roles and acknowledge their contributions. These small acts of sharing universal praise reduce competitive mentalities and promote teamwork.

4. Monitor organizational progress

Once you’ve started breaking down silos, track your progress to determine the success of your strategies. For instance, you might review how employees collaborate after a month of creating cross-team projects or create a survey to gain feedback on effective methods.

Gathering feedback shows your employees they have a say, and applying that feedback demonstrates you value their opinions. Monitoring your progress helps you identify areas of improvement to reduce divisions within your organization.

5. Incorporate collaboration tools

Leaders can make collaboration easier and more secure by implementing workplace collaboration tools. Today, collaboration software meets business needs better than ever. Hybrid and remote work environments keep employees connected by enabling them to communicate efficiently on a document or share resources. Digital collaboration tools are pivotal in unifying remote teams and improving cross-department collaborations.

Break silos with the Content Cloud

With a single secure platform for all your content, Box enables teams to manage the entire content lifecycle: file creation, co-editing, sharing, e-signature, classification, retention, and so much more. We make it easy for you to collaborate on content with anyone, both inside and outside your organization, from one place.

Frictionless, enterprise-grade security and compliance are built into our DNA, so you get total peace of mind that your content is protected. And with 1,500+ seamless integrations — as well as a range of native capabilities, like Box Sign — the Content Cloud provides a single content layer that ensures your teams can work together seamlessly.

The Content Cloud is a game changer for the entire organization, streamlining workflows and boosting productivity across every team. Contact us today, and explore what you can do with Box.

While we maintain our steadfast commitment to offering products and services with best-in-class privacy, security, and compliance, the information provided in this blog post is not intended to constitute legal advice. We strongly encourage prospective and current customers to perform their own due diligence when assessing compliance with applicable laws.

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