The “Silo Effect” Defined and Tips on How to Prevent It

Amanda Luzzader

Breakdowns in communication and collaboration between parts of a single organization

According to Forbes, the “silo effect” has been a part of corporate American culture for several decades. What is the silo effect? The analogy is simple: grains and other products stored in farm silos all have different purposes and are not meant to be mixed together. In a company, departments and teams can become silos, separating themselves, developing their own cultures, adopting divergent goals and objectives, and even refusing to share information and resources with each other.

The silo effect is basically a breakdown in communication and collaboration between parts of a single organization. It should be obvious why any organization would want to avoid it. Businesses depend on unity and shared purpose. Organizations thrive on communications. Without a free exchange of information and ideas, an organization will lack unity and shared purpose. When a business consists of separate silos, there is simply no way an organization can operate at full efficiency, nor can it achieve its objectives.

There are many signs and hallmarks that an organization might be suffering from the silo effect, including the following:

  1. Different cultures, operating procedures, and behaviors between departmentsIf you hear your coworkers say, “That might be how they do things over in the design department, but that’s not how we do it here,” your business might be experiencing the silo effect.
  2. Top-down interactions with managementIf your company meetings consist of top-down edicts and commandments, rather than a free exchange of ideas from all personnel levels, your company might be experiencing the silo effect.
  3. Communication barriersDoes it seem needlessly (or even intentionally) difficult to contact counterparts or workers from other departments or teams? If so, your organization might be suffering from the silo effect.

So, how does the silo effect happen? According to Forbes, it almost always comes from the top down: “The silo mindset does not appear accidentally nor is it a coincidence that most organizations struggle with interdepartmental turf wars. When we take a deeper look at the root cause of these issues, we find that more often than not silos are the result of a conflicted leadership team.”

An article published by the career development website Indeed names the following culprits:

  1. Leadership shortcomingsUnclear definitions of company objectives, misuse of workers’ skills and expertise, and an overall lack of inspiration can result in the silo effect.
  2. Organizational structureThe “ladder” structure of many businesses and organizations, in which workers are constantly competing to climb to the upper levels can lead to the silo effect.
  3. Ineffective communication procedures or toolsA lack of tools or methods to communicate between organizational groups can quickly lead to departmental isolation, which in turn can result in the silo effect.

The silo effect can take hold at organizations of any size, including those with multiple thousands of people. However, experts suggest that strong leadership and conscientious effort can reverse the syndrome, and effective management can prevent it. The Indeed article suggests the solutions outlined below. Mostly, they have to do with mitigation or repair of the root causes mentioned above.

  1. Unify the organization in terms of goals and valuesAll departments and teams should be reminded by the leadership team of the organization’s collective objectives and the company’s guiding values. There should be a reminder that objectives, achievements, and values are held jointly. Successes achieved by the company should be treated as departmental successes, and departmental successes should be treated as company successes.
  2. Make communication easierProvide the tools and ability for disparate departments and teams to work together, but also provide training and procedures that reinforce the benefits of doing so.
  3. Motivate, don’t dictateAs a leader, using motivation and positive reinforcement can go a long way toward correcting the effects of the silo effect. A leader’s department or team will often adopt the leaders ways and means.

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