The Advantages and Disadvantages of Working in a Silo

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Organisational silos can form in a business when a department or group doesn't collaborate or communicate well with the rest of the organisation. Work silos can strengthen individual departments, but it can also prevent effective functioning of the organisation. If you work in an organisation, you might want to learn the advantages and disadvantages of silos. In this article, we look at what working in silos means, discuss why silos exist, outline how they form, provide their benefits and disadvantages and explain how to unite them.

What does working in a silo mean?

Working in a silo means operating in a particular group within a workplace. Employees in silos might work for a large company with lots of different departments but only interact with those in the same group as them. Below are some silos that can exist in the workplace:

  • Department: This is one of the most obvious silos, where employees interact mainly with people in their own department or team. For example, the marketing team may communicate mostly with each other.

  • Schedule: In some offices, it's natural for silos to form between people who work on the same schedule. For example, if you work in television, you may form alliances with other people across departments who work at the same time as you do.

  • Rank: Typically, managers may form silos so they can discuss managerial practices with one another. Entry-level employees may also form bonds with one another if they're new to the company.

  • Location: The modern workplace makes it easy to collaborate with people across the world, but silos can still form depending on physical location. Being located within the same office could encourage employees to form a silo.

Why do organisational silos exist?

Organisational silos are often a natural way of human interaction and collaboration. It's normal for people to form alliances with others who they have things in common with, which is why a particular department or level of employee may be in a silo. People can also form alliances out of convenience. It's easy to start a conversation with somebody in the same location or on the same schedule, so this forms a natural silo. Sometimes, people may form silos deliberately because they want to communicate more with colleagues who they're friendly with.

Related: What Is Corporate Culture?

How do silos form and develop?

Here are some reasons why silos form and develop:

Management tolerance

Generally, silos develop in workplaces that tolerate them. Usually, this is because managers are in silos themselves, and they lead by example. It's natural for there to be strong bonds between people at the same level, but developing a silo mentality of us-vs-them can lead to a fragmented workplace. If managers demonstrate that they're enthusiastic about collaboration, silos may be less likely to form across departments, levels and locations.

Vague knowledge of the organisation's vision

It's important to make everyone aware of the organisation's overarching vision. This can help employees look outside their own departments and consider how collaboration could achieve a particular goal. For example, a clothing company could have an overall aim of increasing profits. The marketing, sales, logistics and financial departments all have roles to play in reaching this goal. If the marketing department only considers marketing goals, they may find little reason to collaborate. But if they consider the company's broader vision, they might find more reasons to interact with other teams.

Competition between departments

A little healthy competition can be good for a business, but too much can cause silos to form. Often, factors within a workplace can cause different departments to compete with one another. For example, offering a bonus to the department that completes the most work could cause rivalry, which could affect any form of collaboration. It might be better to offer bonuses to departments that have improved on previous performances. That way, employees are only competing within their own teams rather than with other departments.

Location

Silos can easily form when staff members work in different locations. This doesn't necessarily mean another country, as silos may form with people who work in particular areas of a building. A popular way to handle this is by introducing hot-desking, where employees have no fixed seat within an office. Reshuffling employees' seating arrangements can also encourage people to collaborate with different teams. For international teams, hosting virtual team-building events can also help to break down any silos.

Advantages of silos

Silos can influence the way employees interact with one another. Here are some advantages:

Enable staff members to form bonds

Staff members in silos can often form deeper bonds and more positive relationships with their colleagues. This can help them understand and trust each other more, helping them work together more efficiently. Silos can also make it easier to resolve internal conflicts and can help staff find solutions to issues both inside and outside of the workplace. All of these factors can increase employee productivity, which generally results in higher quality work.

Help new people feel comfortable

Silos can help welcome people into a company. When joining a business, new employees can often feel overwhelmed. But getting to know a small group of people can help these employees adjust to the workplace. Generally, new staff associate with people in their own department first and then perhaps those who are on the same schedule as them or sit near them in the workplace. Silos can naturally help new people feel included and can aid in their adjustment to a new role.

Hold individuals accountable

Another advantage of silos is that it helps to hold individuals accountable in a way that the larger organisation may not. The hierarchy in individual silos could ensure that each employee completes their work to a high standard. For example, junior level employees in the human resources (HR) department might report to HR managers who keep them accountable for meeting deadlines.

Disadvantages of silos

Silos can be challenging in several ways. Here are some of the main reasons:

Less collaboration across the office

Collaboration can be an incredibly effective tool for workplaces. It helps staff members to work towards common business goals and can encourage them to share their best skills. In workplaces with silos, collaboration can be less frequent. This can affect whether a company achieves certain goals. To counter this, ice-breaker activities can improve collaboration across teams, helping people from various departments communicate more.

Related: What Is Professional Networking? (And Why it Matters)

Lower workplace morale

Silos can cause workplaces to appear fragmented and, in some areas, exclusive. This can make it challenging for people to communicate with other departments, which can lead to lower staff morale. Staff members might find certain groups less approachable, which could cause complications when working. You could promote open and honest communication by speaking directly to individual team members during the working day to avert this.

Resistance to change

Employees who work in silos can prefer things to remain the same. This isn't ideal for modern workplaces, which may be constantly changing, and people's relationships may change too. For example, an increasing number of people working from home may cause some silos to become fractured. Similar changes could see silos struggling to adjust. To avoid this, ensure you keep everyone updated about changes in the workplace and invite people to discuss their opinions on them.

How to overcome silos

If you think your workplace has silos, here are some tips that could help overcome them:

1. Discuss the shared vision of the company

Start talking more about shared visions when communicating with employees. Try to focus less on individual goals for each department and discuss an overarching goal for the entire organisation instead. You can then break this down depending on department, but ensure that everyone is aware that their goals are working towards a larger vision.

2. Send out more team-related emails

Speaking to your employees as a team can help them to see each other as one company, rather than lots of smaller groups. Send out congratulatory emails to people who have achieved particular things, including their name and photo. This can encourage other staff members to approach them and offer congratulations. Recognise and praise the work of different departments, but try to keep it equal to minimise competition. Also, invite other people to speak to the entire workplace in face-to-face meetings on on a shared platform like an instant messaging channel.

Related: How to Introduce Yourself to New Co-workers

3. Host team-building exercises

Team-building exercises are among the best ways to help people collaborate more. This may involve an entire team-building day at a purpose-made setting or just some quick exercises on a Monday morning. These activities generally encourage people to speak to other colleagues and get out of their comfort zone. Staff members may respond best to these if they're not work-related. Tasks could be as simple as everyone saying an interesting fact about themselves. Hosting social events can also be a good form of team building.

4. Remind staff members of the importance of networking and collaboration

One of the best ways to break down silos is to remind staff to socialise with their colleagues. Make sure that they're aware of the positive effect of having close colleagues, as long as they're also making an effort to collaborate with those outside of their group. Discussing some statistics about team collaboration could help to remind staff members of its importance.

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