Opening Silos, or How to Work Together as an Organisation

Working group

When Dr Linda Sharkey spoke about how to futureproof our workplaces at Global Female Leaders 2017, we were all ears. Because we all have probably some things that could be better at our own organisations. During the talk an interesting question came up on our app, but sadly there wasn’t time to go into it.

It read:

“How can we encourage more relationships between groups and eliminate silos?”

We will now take the opportunity to take a closer look at this issue, because it is a very important question indeed.

The silo phenomenon

Silos appear in every organisation. They can be defined as groups of employees that work mostly autonomously. Other departments in the organisation have not much insight into what is going on there and are only confronted with the results of their work, that they have in turn to work with themselves.

Silos have many consequences for organisations.

  • If there are many silos, most decisions that are made within a company are localised and disconnected, disrupting overall strategy and context.
  • Also, if workers are trapped in their own little “world” they are disconnected from its results. They can’t own them and may be less motivated.
  • Third, if there are disfunctional departments that encumber the overall work processes, the mistakes that are made systematically are harder to identify and get rid of.

And last, but not least, in companies with many silos it becomes harder to work together creatively as well as to benefit from the specialised knowledge of the different teams.

brick in the wall

Some ideas on opening silos

So as you can see opening silos is very advisable. Here are some ideas on how to do that.

1. Leaders must be commited to this task

Leaders are the role models in organisations. If they are bad and their leadership shows, for example, scheming, laziness, being a workaholic or other damaging archetypes, their teams will probably follow suit. Or some employees who aren’t satisfied with the leadership may even quit. If leaders are commited to a culture of exchange of ideas, not only within their team, but with other departments as well, the people in the company will feel compelled to adapt this behaviour.

2. Market the idea of exchange within your organisation!

This begins with marketing a common purpose. A corporate culture. A mission. If your company hasn’t formulated one, it is now time to do so. Because with a common goal comes more of an overarching context and an incentive to work together more. But also, efforts to work together more must be actively communicated. The measures taken should be marketed and employes should feel (and get!) invited to participate.

3. Create concrete opportunities for exchange

Talking at the water cooler is fine, but there need to be organised sessions and settings where real exchange can take place. These don’t need to be traditional meetings, by the way. You could start voluntary sessions where employes could give talks on certain topics or projects they are working on. You could organise interdepartmental brainstorming sessions on current challenges or questions. You could set up idea corners where people with ideas can write them down and put them up on a board for everyone to see. Maybe you can come up with a system that allows interested people to volunteer for working on them.

4. Unify your software and tools

In many companies, different teams use different tools that are not integrated with one another. But using the same software with APIs for different tools and solutions can be very benefitial for breaking down silos. Communication, projects and organisational structures become more visible and it is easier for employes to understand and relate to the goings on in the company.

5. Break down the data silos

Working with big data is the future of every company’s strategy. But in many organisations, data is still in the state that doesn’t allow for it to be integrated and worked with properly. Different software from departments such as customer relations, marketing, finance or IT creates lots of data from performing tasks for its departments. The problem is, though, that often the different data collections aren’t compatible with one another because they follow different logical structures. Getting rid of these data silos is a big topic that we can’t address at this point. But you should definitely look into it.

As always, thank you for your great questions at Global Female Leaders 2017! We hope one of our ideas serves to inspire you to try it out.

Review Global Female Leaders 2017: Official Whitepaper

The Global Female Leaders 2017 summit took place from 7th to 9th May 2017 at The Ritz-Carlton in Berlin. Our dear partner Accenture provided us with an in-depth White Paper, that you can now download for free!

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