Knowledge sharing is a foundational element of organizational success. At the highest level, it helps companies gain holistic insight into business functionality, without which they can lose sight of critical problems, as well as potential solutions for improvement.
But ineffective knowledge sharing is a common problem felt by even the world’s largest organizations. If unaddressed, this can lead to the widespread adoption of a silo mentality — and things can go south fast from there.
In one study, 83% of companies reported silos within their organization and 97% said the silos negatively affected company performance. Working to close gaps in communication and collaboration not only saves your business money, but it enhances the overall productivity and efficiency of your workforce.
Let’s dive into the causes of organizational silos and discuss actionable ways you can address silo mentality at your organization.
Silos are created when different teams work independently of each other and fail to collaborate or communicate together. When operating with a silo mentality, there’s an obliviousness to other teams and how their work might affect business goals. Silos can also look like competing groups purposefully withholding information from the other — taking on an “us vs. them” mentality.
The more insular any group becomes, the less beneficial they are to the rest of the organization and its greater goals. Resistance to collaboration and an unwillingness to share knowledge with other teams or departments within the same company is a common problem that can drive division, inefficiency and lowered morale.
There are a variety of factors that can contribute to the creation of organizational silos.
For example, enterprise organizations are disproportionately affected by silo mentality due to the communication difficulties inherent to larger teams. A lack of resources or inadequate technology can further exacerbate the issue, as these factors directly impact a team’s ability to collaborate effectively. Certainly, a lack of incentive to step outside one’s silo does little to help the situation.
A silo mentality can also stem from cultural issues — such as if competition is valued over collaboration or if there are conflicts among company leadership that lead to a toxic work environment.
Even more so, silos are simply easier to navigate — they’re usually smaller and more manageable, with fewer people or issues to consider in decision-making. Silos have a far better chance of operating like a well-oiled machine over the more complex, sometimes messy layers of collaboration.
Examples of silo mentality
Silo mentality can happen at different intersections within a company, between levels as well as horizontally across teams and departments. At worst, it can have devastating consequences, especially for high-stakes industries such as healthcare.
For example, a patient with non-communicative nurses might be asked the same question multiple times or given different answers when they voice a concern regarding their care. Not only is this detrimental to the patient experience, but it can also have dangerous consequences when it comes to the patient’s health.
Another example is two different product teams working on upgrading the same feature without knowing what the other team is doing. As a result, the teams produce duplicate work — wasting the company's valuable time and resources that could have been allocated elsewhere.
The negative effects of organizational silo mentality
Fragmentation between teams, departments and individuals within a company can have a lasting negative impact that's increasingly difficult to overcome if left unchallenged. These effects can include:
- Slowed or stagnant productivity: Collaboration is the key to efficiency and innovation. But when teams are unable to share knowledge with one another, productivity and performance can diminish.
- Lowered morale: A culture of competition can make addressing day-to-day tasks exhausting, especially if silos are causing teams to deliberately withhold information from one another.
But low morale doesn't only happen when knowledge is withheld deliberately — sometimes individuals might not even know they are participating in silos. Morale can also be impacted negatively when other factors, such as lack of resources or proper technology, are reinforcing silos and making effective collaboration challenging for teams.
- Diminished cognitive diversity: Simply put, your organization can lose out on “culture-add” individuals who seek out a workplace that promotes collaboration and innovation.
- Poor customer experience: When unchecked, the effects of silo mentality can trickle throughout all areas of a business and work against the interests of the customer. Missteps caused by silo mentality can bleed into client-facing interactions, and they can also have negative consequences that impact the customer experience at the product or solution level.
How to overcome silo mentality through workplace learning
How your business chooses to address silos is going to vary based on the cause — there are countless approaches you can take. Learning and knowledge sharing is at the core of breaking down silos, so here are some ways you can leverage your L&D programs and company learning culture to that end.
Create a shared learning vision
Having cross-departmental collaboration and learning at the center of your cultural values can inspire curiosity between departments and help individuals to understand the impact that each team and their work has on the other. A culture of learning is ideally a collective effort that encourages individuals and teams alike to share knowledge openly to the benefit of themselves, their peers and the organization as a whole.
Emphasize mentorship and cross-team knowledge sharing
Encourage your people to collaborate with leaders across departments, as well as members from other teams. Employees should understand the ways in which knowledge from other teams can bolster their own work and be inspired to share their own knowledge for the same reasons.
Develop initiatives – including mentorship programs, sponsorships, innovation challenges – that facilitate mutually-effective learning that crosses team boundaries.
For success, the push for collaboration and learning needs to come from the top down, with leaders leading by example in the sharing of ideas and by calling on expertise from across the organization to solve challenges. It’s vital to have this buy-in at the top. After all, C-suite members and others in leadership set the tone for how the business operates and can inspire others in the organization to follow suit.
Initiate knowledge-sharing forums that make cross-functional learning easily accessible
As your people take on various learning opportunities and grow their skills, empower them to put this knowledge to action and share it across projects and teams.
Consider creating a shared forum where individuals can showcase successes and learnings to anyone in the organization, such as a “lunch-and-learns.” If there’s a group that recently attended an industry conference, for instance, they could give a presentation to the broader team on what they learned, their takeaways and how they hope to apply this new knowledge at work.
Another example is utilizing a talent marketplace tool to connect employees to cross-functional projects where they can apply their skills outside the bounds of their typical job responsibilities.
The impact of L&D on silo mentality
Silo mentality has many negative consequences on a business, including diminished productivity, morale, thought diversity and customer experience, with a clear effect on the bottom line. Doubling down on learning and promoting a culture of learning is one way to combat company silos. Doing so rewards curiosity and encourages the fluid sharing of knowledge, vital to company growth and health.