Silo mentality and how it affects the workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 December 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Silo mentality can lower employee morale, reduce company productivity and lead to organisational silos. The customer service experience can also suffer due to the consequences of this mentality. Overcoming silo mentality can help a company better achieve long-term goals and create a more positive and productive work environment for employees. In this article, we discuss what silo mentality is, what problems it creates and how to break down organisational silos.

What is silo mentality?

Silo mentality is the reluctance to share information between employees or across different departments within an organisation. This unwillingness can reduce the company's efficiency, having a negative impact on corporate culture, employee work performance and customer satisfaction. Silo mentality often begins with competition among senior managers and can lead to the creation of organisational silos.

What causes organisational silos?

Several factors, many of which involve communication challenges, cause organisational silos, such as:

Tolerance from company leadership

The general perception of silos in the business world is that a top-down issue stemming from leadership shortcomings leds to organisational silos. Senior management may foster the creation of organisational silos by their interactions with other company leaders. For example, two departmental leaders may have contrasting management styles, leading to tension between them. Their team members may experience this tension and avoid sharing information with each other. This tolerance by company leadership sets the tone for the work environment within and between the different departments.

Competition between departments

Competition between employees in separate divisions or workgroups can encourage an unwillingness to work cooperatively. For example, if a manager promises a bonus or increased commission in a sales contest involving different departments, this might discourage the employees from communicating honestly or freely between divisions. The employees may become secretive and guarded in the information they share.

Lack of awareness of company vision

When employees are unaware of a company's mission and values, they may not appreciate the common goals of the organisation. Employees could instead become focused on the tasks they perform within their silo and feel separate from other sectors of the company. When this happens, employees may not feel invested in the organisation, identifying instead with their silos.

Unclear roles

Employees and workgroups perform best when they understand their roles within an organisation and what's expected of them. With communication issues, employees may misunderstand or be confused about their roles, leading to poorer work performance. Without a clear understanding of their roles, employees are less likely to share valuable information across departments.

Physical separation of employees

Physical separation of employees can also cause silos. This can be especially true if departments work in different sections or floors in an office building. Sometimes employees may work from different organisational locations, which further reduces the possibility of interactions and communication with colleagues.

Organisational structure

When organisations favour individuality over teamwork, they encourage a lack of cooperation among employees. Employees can become protective of resources and information, both individually and within their silos, to ensure the completion of their projects. Without clear direction from leadership to work collaboratively, employees may focus on their individual job needs. As a result, they could become less inclined to consider the impact of their behaviour on their colleagues' ability to complete their job duties.

Types of silos

Silos can take several forms within an organisation. A siloed employee typically limits their communication to members of their own silo and identifies more with their group than with their employer. Some of the more common types include silos based on a:

  • department or division

  • geographical location

  • work schedule

  • job title and rank

What problems does a silo mentality create?

Regardless of the type of silo, if people working at a company have a silo mentality, various problems can arise that adversely affect the business. Here are some of the more common problems that having a silo mentality creates:

Resistance to change

Employees can become accustomed to working within their silos and resist change, such as new company policies or modifications to the organisational structure. For example, if the company reorganises across departmental lines, employees may have difficulty adapting to the new structure, viewing the reorganisation as a disruption to their work environment. This can create challenges for senior management in proceeding with implementing the reorganisation, since their employees may feel more loyalty to their silos than the company's goals.

Labour redundancies

Within a company, employees from different divisions may perform overlapping job duties. Without open cross-departmental communication, including shared data systems, there can be considerable duplication of effort among employees. For instance, employees from two separate divisions may collect the same information from a customer, which could be a frustrating experience for the customer and increase employee workloads as they work to reconcile the information.

Spread of misinformation

Organisational silos prevent or deter the flow of complete information between different divisions. In the absence of clear communication, assumptions or misunderstandings may occur based on incomplete knowledge. Misinformation can spread among employees and departments. This misinformation could lead to confusion among team members, creating project delays and issues with employee morale.

Lack of communication

When employees are protective of information and reluctant to share knowledge, the result is poor or ineffective communication. The lack of communication can impede workplace processes and efficiency. Employees may become frustrated with their inability to complete their job tasks successfully due to limited or delayed sharing of information, which can lead to employees or workgroups feeling disenfranchised from the organisation at large.

Related: Communication skills you need to succeed

Weakened company culture

The company culture reflects the mission, vision and values of an organisation. A silo mentality can have a negative influence on company culture, leading to low morale and decreased job motivation among employees. With limited communication, employees may have a lack of clarity about organisational goals and the value of their contributions to the success of the company. As a result, employees may focus on achieving immediate results in their jobs rather than consider the long-term goals of the company.

Related: What is company culture and why is it important?

Slower company growth

Organisational silos contribute to missed business opportunities. Due to limited or scarce information, employees may find it difficult to make important, timely decisions that impact company growth. This could then result in delays in projects or sales, creating negative consequences for the company's financial outlook and ability to take on new business. This slowed company growth can weaken an organisation's competitiveness and derail future business planning.

Less satisfactory customer experience

Without adequate information between divisions, customers may have inconsistent interactions with employees. Customers may receive different responses to their questions or resolutions to their complaints based on which division they contact. Organisational silos can also lead to lower quality products or services. The quality of the customer experience can suffer because of these shortcomings.

How to break down silo mentality

Breaking down silo mentality requires a company-wide effort to foster collaboration, camaraderie and information-sharing among employees. If you're in a leadership or managerial position, here are some ways you could look at overcoming these barriers:

1. Promote a shared organisational vision

It's important that all employees understand how their work contributes to the overall goals and success of the company. Promoting a shared vision helps create a mutual understanding and can encourage collaboration among employees. Newsletters and company-wide emails are effective ways to communicate the organisation's vision and goals and help employees feel included in the company's processes and planning. If possible, hold regular all-company staff meetings or assemblies, whether in person or virtually, to further communicate the long-term goals of the company and promote employee participation.

2. Improve communication among employees

Lack of communication between departments can cause reduced productivity. For example, there may be a delay or an incomplete relaying of critical information between workgroups, impeding the delivery of services or products to the company's customers. Communication challenges can also leave employees feeling isolated or ignored. To overcome this barrier, implement a company-wide communication strategy, such as chat rooms or shareable open-access documents. This can encourage open communication and important information-sharing among employees. Here are some of the digital workplace collaboration tools that can improve company communication:

  • Team collaboration software

  • Video chat and broadcasts

  • Company podcasts

  • Discussion forums

  • Employee surveys

  • Idea management tools

3. Collaboration meetings

Fostering camaraderie and collaboration between different workgroups is key to breaking down the barriers between organisational silos. To encourage this, managers can develop cross-departmental work projects. Employees involved in the project can meet at regularly scheduled collaborative meetings to discuss the progress of the project and work together to problem-solve any challenges.

Related: What are teamwork skills and how can you improve them?

4. Hold company-wide events

Company-wide social events or other social offerings provide more relaxed opportunities for employees to network and get to know each other. Some examples include annual company picnics, book clubs and dance or cooking classes. These planned social activities can foster casual interactions and friendships among employees.

5. Implement team-building exercises

Team-building exercises promote collaboration among employees from different divisions. Encourage employees to meet in a shared space and ask them to partner with co-workers outside their normal workgroups. Assign a series of tasks for them to complete, enabling them to combine their different skills and creative resources.

Related: Soft skills in the workplace (With examples)

6. Measure organisational progress

Once you've implemented a plan for breaking down silo mentality, it's important to track your progress. Set a timeframe, including measurable benchmarks, for achieving the company's goals. Hold regular meetings to discuss your progress and determine any adjustments needed for your plan.

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