Why silos are bad for business and how to break them down

Why silos are bad for business and how to break them down

The dynamics of organisations tend to promote the development of silos.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s the very thing we encourage when we set up departments with specialist roles. Almost every company above a certain size relies on these teams to carry out key functions. Naturally, this requires higher levels of communication within teams, than between them.

While this kind of compartmentalisation is fine, over time, it can lead to a situation where teams, or different levels in a company’s hierarchy, become worlds unto themselves. This occurs when communication networks between the different parts of a business are insufficient. Cut off from one another, different cultures inevitably emerge, often with contrasting ways of doing things and a sense of tribal loyalty.

That’s when you have a problem.

Why silos are bad for business

Silos develop when information and ideas are not flowing freely throughout an organisation.

This can seriously hinder innovation. It also leaves managers unable to carry out their roles effectively, as they lack the information needed to understand challenges facing the business.

Silos are incompatible with an effective ‘customer experience’ strategy (you can see our recent blog on ‘customer experience’ here). The key to such a strategy is ensuring customers or clients are provided with excellent service and consistent messaging every time they interact with your business. This requires a unified, customer centric culture at every level of an organisation, something that is impossible when a business is divided between silos.

Dealing with businesses with entrenched silos can be a total nightmare. We all know what it’s like having to explain the same issue repeatedly to different departments and then getting different answers from each of them.

There are few things that annoy customers more.

How to break down silos once they have developed

There is a common misconception that breaking down silos requires re-structuring.

In reality, communication is the key.

Your most important tool is a plan for sharing information between different parts of the business. Without this, restructuring is pointless. You are just as likely to see a new set of silos emerge in place of the ones that were dismantled.

The focus should be on promoting a culture where every department and every level in the management hierarchy, from the CEO down, has a sense of working towards a common vision.

One approach is to create a senior position with responsibility for improving customer or client experiences across the board. A key aspect of such a role is championing the voice of the customer or client throughout the organisation. This means ensuring that every staff member, no matter what their department or place in the management hierarchy, is focussed on going about their job in a way that promotes better experiences for clients or customers.

Other key aspects of this position include ensuring different parts of the business have well established networks for sharing information and data between them, and promoting collaboration between different departments wherever possible.

Customer or client journey maps are another useful tool for breaking down silos. These set out in graphic form the different interactions, or touch points, clients or customers have with a business. These insights can then be shared across teams and hierarchies. This helps ensure that all areas of the business, no matter how specialised, remain focussed on the bigger picture.

CSP, an American customer service consultancy, recommends an exercise where staff rotate through different departments than their own, spending half a day or more in each. Apart from the obvious benefit of getting to know people from other departments, this helps staff better understand what other teams do and the impact their own work has on other parts of the business. Ultimately, staff come to see their roles holistically, encouraging a more unified company culture.

Finally, a set of well thought out corporate values can be a great way to instil a sense of common purpose across the different parts of a business.