Throughout your career, how many times have you heard a newly appointed leader pronounce “we need to breakdown the silos?”

Why is that?

Silo mentality walls off communication, fosters power struggles and breeds mistrust. A siloed organization is slow and not prepared to take advantage of market opportunities. When organizations are not empowered to share information across the enterprise, making smart, informed, data-driven decisions is nearly impossible.

Sadly, silos seem not to be a fleeting tendency but rather systemically ingrained into workplace cultures.  And while leaders desire to break them down, it’s not easy.

Why is that?

If you consider your workplace, you naturally invest your time and energy into those that report to you and those you report to. You may have little relations with those that perform periphery functions or are in other divisions or offices, so of course, you don’t have the same level of trust or investment.

Harvard Business Review recently asked a group of global managers, engineers, salespeople, and consultants, “Which relationships are most important for creating value for customers?” The majority answered that innovation and business-development opportunities lie in the interfaces between functions, offices, or organizations – aka “horizontal relationships”.

Note, horizontal relationships are the opposite of vertical silos. Harvard’s Heidi Gardner has found that firms with more cross-boundary collaboration achieve greater customer loyalty and higher margins. A win-win for all.

Where do you start to break down your silos?

One approach is to throw out today’s org chart and completely redesign its structure. The downsides of this often-slow approach are high costs and confusion. And like a game of Whac-A-Mole, where some challenges resolve, new ones pop up.

The better approach is to invest in training your people to collaboratively work with their colleagues while simultaneously educating them on the expertise held by each person within the organization.

Here are three strategies you can begin implementing.

Together create a unanimous management vision of team collaboration

Regrettably, silo mentality often begins with leadership. Each manager has goals for their department which are often directly tied to bonus compensation. But these goals often conflict with one another. Under these conflicting conditions walls begin to build, sharing ceases and collaboration grinds to a halt.

To break down your silo mentality, department managers must acknowledge and embrace a vision where the free-flow of information advances the entire organization.

To achieve a unified vision, many companies have established cross-department customer experience bodies, while others have established these same type bodies to update the company’s vision and goals. As the managers from different silos collaborate on a unified vision, the objectives they craft for their division pivots from previously silo objectives to ones that support the unified vision.

Success lies with complete leadership buy-in and an intimate understanding of the company’s long-term goals, department objectives, and critical initiatives. Only then can the unified vision be presented to the enterprise.  This leadership unification will instill trust, generate empowerment, and move the enterprise from a siloed department mentality to an organization mentality.

Work teams that learn and play together, stay together.

One way to break down silos is to educate and train together in cross-department exercises. You already have a training budget in place, consider utilizing those funds for collaborative training across divisions. Banish those small-group department team building exercises in favor of cross-department team building exercise – and make sure to pre-assign the teams to achieve your silo-busting objective. 

In addition to collaborative training, minimize the silo mentality through regular all-staff interactions. Be bold, hold town halls that address the dangers of the silo mentality and continuously update the enterprise on the evolving corporate culture that has led to increased cooperation, communication, collaboration and success.

Invest in a video conference tool for cross-department meetings and brainstorms. When collaborators can both hear and see each other, they’ll be more actively engaged and open to other’s ideas and opinions — also considering moving the chairs. It’s human nature to build a rapport with those we sit near. Proximity builds understanding and empathy.

Communicate often and encourage two-way conversation.

Heighten communication and collaboration among the different teams such as sales, marketing, operations, legal, and finance organizations will enable each to make better-informed decisions, serve customers better, and ultimately, increase sales. However, it’s nearly impossible to work across teams without asking a lot of questions. What one team takes for granted may not be what the other teams experience.

Instead of holding one-way information sessions, hold cross-silo “Theory of Mind” discussions to help employees walk in the shoes of your customers or their colleagues in other divisions of the organization. The goal is to get everyone to share their knowledge and experience and to work together on solving a challenge or developing a new product. These discussions are best-held face-to-face so that participants can see eye-to-eye.

Encourage dialogue. Celebrate questions. When you as a leader show interest in what others are saying by asking questions particularly open-ended ones, it prompts others to do the same. This culture shift also encourages those that in the past might not have asked an important question out of fear that it would make them look incompetent or weak.

Are you ready to unleash the power of unified horizontal collaboration?

Given time and your unconditional support, executing on these strategies will help you move your vertical silos to highly functioning horizontal cross-department teams and collaboration will not only be sought out, it will become second nature.

Contact Leadership Pathways if you wish to brainstorm on leadership ideas for combating silos.