Skip to content
All posts

3 Starting Points for Breaking Down Silos in Your Organization

Leaders hit a brick wall when they operate in silos. 

Graphic Showing People in HarmonyThere's only so much you and your team can accomplish alone. Workplace inter-dependencies rely on relationships that reach across functional areas. Effective leaders operate across the divides and, over time, eradicate silo mentalities. 

Breaking down silos: Is it worth the effort?

When work is not integrated or understood outside of a functional team, it may seem like it's easier to do. Each person on the functional team knows exactly what to do and is unencumbered by concerns about others in the work stream. 

Inviting others in makes things messy. They have disruptive questions, ideas and opinions about the work. There's learning for everyone, and that takes time and effort. There will be conflict as people grapple with change.   

Is it all worth it? Only you can decide. Consider what you'd be giving up if you broke down the silos:

  • Quick Decision-Making. Decisions get made quickly when there's no interest in others' input or on the impact decisions may have downstream.
  • Deniability. It's harder for team members to say "that's not my job" when they know about and care about the bigger picture.
  • Power. Inside the silo, you know and control everything. You'd have to share some of that control if your silo walls came down.  
  • Your Comfort Zone. Because things are contained, they don't change much. Even when change is happening elsewhere, you can temporarily insulate yourself from it.
  • Being in the Dark. Once the walls come down, you'll know what's happening in other areas and with other people. More interaction means more information flow.

That's a lot to give up. All you get in return is an opportunity to lead more effectively and get more done. Cross-functional collaborations open up limitless possibilities. It's just messy. Here are three considerations that will help with the transition.  

Breaking down silos starts with three priorities

Leaders set the tone when silos come down. First and foremost, leaders need to commit to this change and see the value of it. Resistance from the top will make the process more painful, longer-term and difficult for everyone. 

Start with a shared vision: People want to belong and feel connected to something bigger. A group vision, informed and affirmed by all, can be unifying for the entire organization. Showing individuals and functional teams how their own long-term interests can be realized within the vision is a good place to start. The vision is the springboard. It's the catalyst for change and the purpose for all you do.   

Continue with clarity: A one-time pronouncement of the vision isn't sufficient. Everything the leader does must be in service of the vision. Everything you ask others to do must also be linked to realizing the vision. The silos will soon be re-built if only some, not all, are held accountable to the work that clearly moves the organization toward the unifying vision. 

Foster trust: Give people trust and demonstrate trustworthiness. To tear down the silos, people need to trust each other. Walls are used defensively, and you're asking people to be vulnerable when those walls come down. Create expectations related to how people will interact with each other in ways that continually build trust. 

Breaking down silos makes the work more rewarding

When people feel a sense of connection and belonging in the workplace, their level of engagement rises. Emotionally engaged employees apply additional discretionary effort to their work. They get more done, and they feel better about doing it.

With the improved productivity levels and profitability that result, everyone in the organization will also feel more successful. The common vision will also be an ongoing rallying point, especially with each step closer you bring people to it.

Breaking down silos gives people a sight line that is ennobling and enabling. Being able to see the big picture and the brighter future makes the work more rewarding.   

Action Items to continually work on your own leadership 

1. Learn more about how to enable and ennoble employees.
2 Make sure you don't have a blindspot when it comes to your soft skills or style. Take the free, self-paced course called The Essentials of Personal Effectiveness to build transferable skills and improve the quality of workplace interactions. 

Deb Calvert is a certified Executive Coach, Certified Master with The Leadership Challenge® and architect of leadership development programs for nearly 100 organizations. She helps leaders at every level discover and achieve their leadership goals. Deb is the founder of People First Productivity Solutions, building organizational strength by putting people first since 2006.