How to Prevent Department Silos as Your Business Grows

6 min read • Sep 11, 2021 • Kat Boogaard

You’ve put in the hard work—and it’s paying off. Your business is thriving, and you’re establishing a name for your company and your brand.

It may feel like nothing can stop your progress, but managing a larger business comes with its own set of challenges. As your business grows—increasing in staff, output, responsibilities, and more—so does the potential for the development of departmental silos.  

While they may sound unassuming, department or organizational silos can make it difficult for businesses to run efficiently and—if they become disruptive enough—may even be responsible for a company’s demise. 

That’s scary stuff, but don’t panic yet. There are ways to prevent these momentum killers before they even start. 

What Are Department Silos? 

First things first, let’s get an understanding of what exactly a department silo is. 

Merriam-Webster defines silos as “an isolated grouping, department, etc., that functions apart from others, especially in a way seen as hindering communication and cooperation.”

To put it simply, the various teams and departments within a company are operating in their own individual universes rather than collaborating and communicating openly. 

We tend to think silos are only a problem for big corporations with thousands of employees and huge departments. But silos threaten even small and medium-sized businesses where communication is lacking and teams have their own agendas.

Scenarios where your marketing team doesn’t know what your sales team is doing or your account manager fails to alert your project manager that they’re over budget are sure signs that silos are prevalent in your business. Problems like these stop your company from running effectively and can negatively impact your bottom line.

Despite their detrimental impact, silos are quite common. Surprisingly, a PwC survey revealed that 55% of businesses have teams that work in silos, while only 36% of respondents prioritized cross-functional collaboration.

But how exactly do silos start? While there are a few factors that can contribute to silo formation, they can mainly be attributed to:

  • A lack of clear vision around company goals
  • Poor communication or inability to relate goals to staff

Additionally, as companies grow, it can become more challenging to share information amongst managers, across departments, or with new employees, simply because there are far more people that need to be kept in the loop.

Because silos are the by-product of deeper problems within a company, establishing a work environment that addresses these potential issues from the outset can help you to avoid them. 

How Silos Impact Your Business

Silos cause inefficiencies, redundancies, and even toxic work environments. They can impact every aspect of your business, from customer satisfaction to company culture.

The breakdown of communication can wreak havoc on a business and result in a slew of adverse outcomes, such as:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Misuse of resources
  • Poor customer experience
  • Mistrust among departments
  • Compromised goals
  • Disorganized priorities
  • Damaged company morale

As your small business expands, now is the right time to address the issues that cause silos—this way, they won’t hinder your growth later on.  

5 Ways to Prevent Department Silos 

Effective knowledge sharing, collaboration, and teamwork are the key elements that can help knock down silos and prevent new ones from rising. 

With this in mind, business owners looking to foster more productive work environments should consider implementing some of the following strategies in their businesses.

1. Make Goals and Objectives Clear

Silos are inevitable when it feels like everybody is working toward something different. For that reason, you need to ensure that everyone from the team leaders or managers to individual staff members are aware of your company-wide objectives. And more importantly, everyone should know how their role plays a part in achieving those objectives. 

Create a unified vision by sharing short- and long-term business goals and highlighting expected outcomes. Be transparent, and always impart to staff and managers a clear overview of the timeframes, deliverables, and required actions necessary to achieve those goals. That way, you’ll have the peace of mind that everybody is at least moving in the same direction. 

2. Encourage Open Communication

An open line of communication between staff, upper management, or executives can cultivate trust and inclusivity, strengthen relationships, and promote greater job satisfaction. 

Develop an office environment where employees feel supported and comfortable enough to air their concerns and provide feedback and ideas. There are a number of ways you could do this, including using employee feedback surveys or hosting “office hours” as a dedicated time when you and other managers are available for comments, questions, and suggestions. 

3. Nurture Collaboration

We know meetings are a necessary part of running a business, but try to keep large extended meetings to a minimum. Instead, encourage smaller, more frequent group sessions where cross-departmental collaboration and interaction would be most beneficial. 

Follow meeting best practices to ensure that they’re always productive and foster cooperation amongst staff. Additionally, create a business cadence whereby updates are regularly scheduled and structured. That could mean daily, weekly, or monthly team meetings, specified days for updates from team leads, or implementing routine 1-on-1 sessions.

4. Use Project Management and Document Sharing Tools

These days, there’s no need to push papers or wonder about the progress of a project or job. A world of project management, collaboration, and document-sharing tools and platforms is available to help you and your staff stay up-to-date and gain visibility into the whole company’s work in real time. 

These easy-to-use systems allow employees to share documents, assign tasks, provide status updates, and collaborate more seamlessly. Do your research to find systems that are a good fit for your business, and offer your employees adequate training on how you’ll use the tools. 

Here are a few popular options you may want to explore: TrelloQuip, Asana, Google Docs, Slack, and WebEx. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it should get you started. 

5. Consider Establishing a Company Intranet

Collaboration doesn’t always have to be formal. Developing a company-wide intranet can make teamwork simple, fast, and secure. 

McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) found that businesses utilizing social technologies improved communication, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing. Furthermore, their findings revealed that using social technologies increased productivity potential by 20–25%. 

An intranet will allow your employees to have easy access to pertinent news, updates, and information that might get lost in the shuffle otherwise. They can also create profiles, interact, and engage with each other on everything related to their projects, tasks, and company happenings. 

Say ‘No’ to Silos

Although common in many businesses, silos don’t have to become a part of yours.

Maintaining transparency and visibility as your business grows is a challenge, but it’s certainly not an insurmountable one. By implementing the above strategies early on, you can avoid future headaches and reap the rewards of a well-run and organized business. 

Kat Boogaard

Based in the great state of Wisconsin, Kat is a freelance writer focused on careers, productivity, and entrepreneurship. When she’s not in front of her computer screen, she’s either hiking with her 2 rescue mutts, baking up a new recipe, or squishing her adorable son. Learn more about her at katboogaard.com.