Breaking Out of the Silo Mentality

By: Cynthia Campbell, MBA, MEd, CUDE, Chief Operating Officer

As a Chicago gal living in Oklahoma for over 13 years, I have learned a few things about farming. For example, as a girl growing up in a big city, I called every bovine a cow. However, now, I am a “country girl wanna-be” who knows the difference between a cow, heifer, bull, and steer. But I digress. I am here to talk about silos.

In farming, the silo is just storage. It holds the product as it makes its way to the market. It is efficient and singular in function. It does its job well. Because of the silos dotting the landscape, America eats. They are a vital farm function; however, they only play one role. There are so many other working parts that, together, create a functioning farm.

So it is in business. If there were an argument to be made for silos in business, it would be that the business silo is focused and efficient because of segmentation. Yes, focus can help with efficiency; however, if one department is thriving (based on departmental goals), but the company overall is struggling, do we call this organizational success? We should not call a department successful until it is fully integrated into a successful business model because the organization (and those it serves) matters when measuring success. 

What is a Business Silo? 

Disconnected working environments or departments within an organization. Typically, each department or team operates independently with little or no collaboration, communication, or information sharing with other parts of the organization.

Example: A marketing team launched a new campaign because it was in their second quarter goals to do so, but they launched it the same week the IT team pushed changes to the online banking system (also in their Q2 goals). The call center is now slammed with some frustrated members (technology issues) and others trying to take advantage of that new promotion (new money). Wait times are long, and members are unhappy. The staff is stressed too. In this example, the IT and the Marketing Teams made important decisions for their “successful” departments, but these decisions significantly impacted others. They could have had a better outcome if communication and collaboration had been in place. 

Why are silos bad for business? 

In our example, we can see that the Call Center and the Members took the “pain” caused by the decisions of two other departments because communication about calendaring projects and promotion was not considered. Both departments focused on their goals and had departmental “success” (goals met) but at an organizational cost.

What is the cost when we operate in a silo?
To culture?
Job satisfaction?
Member satisfaction and NPS score?

In addition, silos kill innovation. Innovation takes the diversity of thought that comes from cross-functional teams. Teams need to practice working together in all the “little ways” so they are ready when a big project comes along!

Why do Business Silos happen? 

I do not think business silos happen because of some maniacal plan to become a silo. They happen because we are busy and human.

Most departmental leaders are remarkably busy. They wear many hats. It is hard to slow down and approach something collaboratively (cross-functionally) because that will require engaging other stakeholders via email and meetings. Sometimes this engagement of others is skipped for the sake of “efficiency,” but a decision is often made that upsets others because their needs were not considered. Adding new requests and requirements after completion (before launch) is costly in time, money, and efficiency. It causes frustration for all. 

Silos can also happen when a lack of a unified vision exists. It is easier to work towards organizational goals when everyone clearly knows them. Leadership cannot over-communicate the mission and vision of their organizations. It is even better when the organizational goals have shared (cross-functional) enterprise-wide accountability.

The human factor can play a role in silos too.

  • Sometimes, we bring our egos to work. Our competitive nature may take over, and we become hyper-focused on our departmental or career path goals that we no longer work for the organization’s good.
  • Maybe we are not sharing information due to concerns about losing control or credit for our work. Harry Truman once said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.” We have to think bigger than ourselves to have a healthy organization.
  • Maybe we are not sharing our departmental plans because of a perceived or actual shortage of organizational resources. However, great ideas that work for the whole organization will gain funding, so, in reality, collaboration on ideas can help secure those funds. We will consistently achieve more together. The scarcity mindset does not produce the outcomes we desire.

How to Eliminate Silos


Leaders should demonstrate collaborative behavior and actively promote departmental cooperation. Staff will follow suit when they see those at the top valuing collaboration. Leaders should question silos when they see them. As discussed above, a silo is a symptom of other issues and is best addressed early and often. 

Stakeholder Buy-In:

At the beginning of each project/process/product/program, whether you are leading it or not, ask the group if all the right people are in the room. Be inclusive. Think through whom your project/process/product/program will impact and see if they have any insights or input before the kick-off meeting for the project.

Improve communication

Implement open communication channels, encourage transparency, and use technological tools that facilitate information sharing and collaboration across departments. Commit to “over-communication” (if that is even possible). 

Align goals and objectives: 

Ensure that each department’s goals and objectives align with the organization’s overall mission and vision. This can create a shared sense of purpose and direction.

Cross-functional teams: 

Encourage forming cross-functional teams to tackle specific projects or challenges. This approach brings together employees from different departments, fostering collaboration and a better understanding of each other’s roles.

Conduct regular inter-departmental meetings: 

Organize meetings involving staff from different departments to share updates, ideas, and insights. 

Employee Engagement and Connection: 

Remote or hybrid work can be extra challenging for fostering engagement and belonging. Leaders should take extra care to ensure a sense of belonging in the organization and among each other. The stronger the connection, the greater the trust. The higher the trust, the more open the communication. The more forthcoming the communication, the fewer silos. Connection and belonging matter. 

Does your organization have silos? 

Can you identify them? Can you assess how they hurt the culture, the employee engagement, the sense of belonging, and the member’s experience? 

Specifically, what can you do today to reduce the “silo effect” in your organization? 

Remember, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together,” — African proverb.

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