Despite the emergence of new devices and software products designed to unite employees in more ways than ever before, the threat of organizational silos is still very real. In fact, a recent survey from My Customer.com, shows that 40 percent of company employees report that they aren’t adequately supported by their colleagues because "different departments have their own agendas."
While silos deter communication and collaboration — both of which are vital to delivering smooth customer experiences and producing correctly functioning products — the root of the problem is that many managers fail to spot those silos as they formulate in front of their very eyes. After all, that shiny new company-wide intranet should ward off any chance of departments becoming isolated, right? To get to bottom of this, let’s reevaluate the nature of organizational silos.
What Are Silos?
Organizational silos describe the isolation that occurs when employees or entire departments within an organization do not want to, or do not have the adequate means to share information or knowledge with each other. Siloed teams often end up working in isolation from the rest of the company, leading to a plethora of internal and external problems for employees, executives, partners and customers.
The Hidden Dangers of A Siloed Company
Silos lead to duplicate work, inefficiency, bugs and generalized employee disenfranchisement at a granular level. According to San Francisco, Calif.-based SendWithUs CEO Matthew Harris, who spoke exclusively to CMSWire, silos lead to work being done without regard to how that work impacts other departments. “Departmental silos become problematic when departments develop tunnel vision, solely focused on their own functional area. They can lose sight of the big picture and fail to take into account the impact of what they’re doing in other departments. Communication and transparency between departments breaks down, resulting in organizational dysfunction on multiple levels,” he says.
He went on to give an example from his own experience in the tech and email marketing sector. "I've seen this happen between product and marketing departments. where a product team will make a customer-facing update — online, in-app, or in a transactional email — without seeking input from the marketing team on branding or voice. The resulting inconsistencies don’t just frustrate marketers, they reflect poorly on the brand as a whole,” Harris reveals.
Related Article: Tear Down Silos in 7 Steps
5 Ways To Recognize Organizational Silos
To aid executives and employers spot these emerging and established company silos, CMSWire's Kaya Ismail has consulted business leaders to get their help on identifying silos before they become a major problem.
1. Broken Customer Experiences
“The most obvious sign of siloed teams, and what ultimately makes them extremely undesirable, is a broken customer experience,” Harris explains. One example he offers is an eCommerce brand that doesn’t have the technology or communication channels in place to discern potential customers from existing customers. “If you’ve already purchased from an eCommerce brand but their marketing team treats you like a [potential] customer, [it points to sales and marketing teams that are] siloed,” he says.
Related Article: Key Benefits of Multidisciplinary, Cross-Silo Collaboration
2. Internal Unfamiliarity
If your employees or colleagues aren’t generally on a first-name basis, something could be wrong. “The first sign of working at a company with silos is when you don’t know the majority of people working outside your team, or what they do at your company,” says Jay Goldman, co-founder and Managing Director of Toronto, Canada-based Sensei Labs.
It's not to say that every employee has to be a familiar with everyone else, but first-name familiarity is paramount — particularly in small and medium-sized organizations. Obviously, this becomes impossible for companies with hundreds of employees, but even then, knowing the names and having direct access to every executive should be part of company culture in order to ward off the threat of silos.
3. Us Vs Them Mentalities
When departments get isolated, they begin to develop an "us vs them" mentality, seeing other departments as competitors and obstacles to success. Jay Goldman offers this point, “protectionist thinking [can develop as a result of silos], where people don’t share information or collaborate with one another out of fear that another team’s gain will be their loss.” He also shares that with time, this could lead to “subcultures (or even cliques) with their own separate and distinct cultures that may not align with a company’s overall mission and culture.”
4. Disenfranchised Employees
If a proud, protectionist mentalities aren’t visible, you may need to look out for the opposite — disenfranchisement. Goldman says that there is indeed a link between silos and disengagement at work. “People who don’t feel like they’re part of the team at large or that they aren’t treated like others in the company will likely become unhappy, unproductive, and pose the risk of sharing their negativity with their coworkers,” he says.
5. Task Duplication
Another common sign linked to organizational silos is task duplication. If there’s no communication, there’s no way to know if the work you’re doing isn’t simultaneously being done by somebody else in another department. And that, according to Ken Tacelli, COO of Bedford, MA.-based Datawatch, is a sign that managers need to watch for. “One of the tell-tale signs of a heavily siloed organization is duplication,” he says.
He warns that businesses that lack collaboration will have individuals and teams in different departments working on similar assignments and projects which will ultimately lead to inefficiencies and loss of productivity. "The best-case scenario for this duplication of data analysis is that teams came up with the same result. However, in many cases, these individuals or teams produce different numbers causing disagreements about who had analyzed the 'correct' data and which can be fully trusted,” he says.
As a manager or employer, once you spot these signs, you can begin implementing a strategy to break down barriers to communication and collaboration within your organization and finally tear down internal silos.