Breaking Down Silos: How to Eliminate Work Silos and Promote Collaboration

Learn everything you need to know about breaking down silos and promoting collaboration in this article.

June 22, 2023
Press the button to generate random icebreaker questions.
There are 300 more icebreaker questions at the bottom of the article
How would you describe your job to a five year old?
What season would you be?
What is a weird food you have tried? Would you eat it again?
What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Would you go in the mother-ship with aliens if they landed on Earth tomorrow?
What is your favorite season?
Do prefer working from home or the office?
What is your earliest memory of this job?
What is the best thing you have bought so far this year?
What is the earliest book you remember?
If you had to move to another country, which one would you choose?
You are the best criminal mastermind in the world. What crime would you commit if you knew you would get away with it?
What is your favorite movie genre to watch?
What was the last thing you ate?
What person from history would you add to Mount Rushmore?
What is a weird fact you know?
What is your favorite part of working from home?
Were the Spice Girls a good team?
Imagine you can instantly learn any language. Which would you choose?
If you could live in any state, which state would you pick?
Which fictional team is the best team of all time?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What do you usually eat for a quick lunch?
What simple food will you never eat?
Show us the weirdest thing you have in the room with you right now.
Would you rather stay at a hotel or an AirBNB?
What is your favorite movie genre to watch?
Are you more productive in the morning or at night?
Who is someone in your community that makes a difference?
Who was your most unique pet?
Choose one famous person from history you want on your team during a zombie apocalypse.
What is a good way to give back to the community?
Which song could you listen to over and over again?
Is Hugh Grant funny?
What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?
Would you want to have an imaginary friend today? Did you have one as a child?
What actor or actress would you want to play you in the movie about your life?
What is the best super power?
What is your New Years resolution?
You can only eat one food again for the rest of your life. What is it?
What is the best work holiday?
What is the first gift you remember receiving?
Would you rather join Metallica or Backstreet Boys?
What is the best example of a community you have seen?
What is an easy way to do something nice for someone?
Show us your phone background and tell the story behind why you picked this image.
What was your first job?
Pick any band to play at your funeral.
If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
Which superpower would you give to your arch enemy?
What is the most obscure superpower you would want?
What emoji best describes how you are feeling right now?
If you could live in any country, which country would you pick?
Would you rather live in a city or a town?
What is your favorite holiday?
What is something you accomplished as part of a team?
What is your standard office lunch?
What is your most used phone app?
What is your favorite season?
Have you ever won something as a team?
Imagine you are a professional baseball player. What is your introduction song?
Beach holiday or ski trip?
Have you ever been to a funny comedy show?
Would you rather live at the North Pole or the South Pole?
What is your favorite song to sing?
If you could live in any state, which state would you pick?
Imagine you could teleport anywhere. Where would you go right now?
What is the most unusual job you have heard of?
What was the last thing you ate?
You can visit any fictional time or place. Which would you pick?
What do your family and friends think you do all day?
What movie do you wish you could watch again for the first time?
Show us your most-used emoji.
What was the most unique style or fashion trend you ever embraced?
What movie defined your generation?
You are stranded on a remote desert island. Are you alone or with your worst enemy?
What is your favorite knock-knock joke?
Have you ever told someone Santa is not real?
Do you know how to speak more than one language?
On a scale of 1 – 10, how much of a team player are you?
What is your #1 recommendation in this city?
What is your favorite holiday?
What bucket list item do you most want to check off in the next six months?
What is your favorite mythical creature?
What was the first way you made money?
If you could be great at any Olympic sport, which would it be?
Which song could you listen to over and over again?
When did you start liking/hating mushrooms?
Where is your favorite vacation spot?
Do you take your PTO all at one time, or another way?
Which show do you remember most from your childhood?
Which beverage goes best with pizza?
Would you want to have a personal assistant follow you around everywhere and do what you asked of them?
Have you ever met your idol?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Would you rather live 100 years in the past or 100 years in the future?
What is your hobby?
When you are alone in the car, what volume is the music at?
Imagine you no longer have to work. How would you spend a Tuesday?
What is your favorite type of sandwich?

Business silos occur when individual teams work in isolation and fail to communicate with each other. They not only harm employee engagement and productivity but waste time and resources to boot. 

So, it's no wonder a study commissioned by Airtable found that reducing silos is a top priority for eight in 10 decision-makers.

Breaking down silos is essential for organizations that want to innovate and stay competitive. In this guide, we'll look at how you can eliminate them and improve collaboration in your company. First, though, let's define what work silos are and look at their consequences in more detail.

What are work silos?

Work silos are essentially departments or teams that work independently and don’t share information. 

There are two main types of organizational silos:

  • Horizontal silos i.e. silos that exist at the same business level, such as between departments.
  • Hierarchical silos. These are between different levels, such as managers and their employees.

There are many reasons a silo mindset can develop—for example, when teams work on different floors or in different geographic locations. Without clear communication channels, such teams rarely, if ever interact. This can lead to isolation and a lack of understanding between groups.

The consequences of work silos

When employees have a silo mentality, they’re less likely to share information. They’re also more likely to focus on departmental goals and lose sight of wider company goals. This can have serious consequences. For instance, Airtable found that when silos existed:

  • Decision-makers lost an average of 2.4 hours a day looking for data and information to do their work.
  • On average, firms experienced a 24% drop in productivity due to disconnected and inefficient processes.

Silos don’t only damage productivity though; they can also lead to conflict and harm employee morale. This then increases the risk of exceeding the average employee turnover rates for your industry.

Image sourced from airtable.com

How to break down work silos

Common indicators of work silos include:

  • Departmental inefficiencies and redundancies
  • A lack of communication between departments
  • A lack of cross-functional collaboration on projects and initiatives
  • Prioritizing department objectives over company objectives
  • Slow reactions to external changes
  • Competition or mistrust between departments

If your company is showing any of these indicators, you need to take steps to break down silos and remove barriers to collaboration. Below are some tips on how to do that.

Nurture team collaboration

Firstly, you need to nurture collaboration within and between teams. Create opportunities for employees to meet up and socialize, such as weekly lunches, shared breaks, and after-work clubs. Employees who get to know each other personally are more likely to collaborate at work.

Team leaders can also hold joint meetings and team-building activities (in-person or remotely) to further strengthen these bonds. This helps employees understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so they can work together more effectively.

Initiate cross-functional teams

You can also encourage cross-departmental collaboration by bringing together employees from different teams to work toward a common goal, like launching a new product line.

For instance, say you’re launching a new range of shoes. You could enlist individuals from your product development team, marketing, sales, and customer service.

Each individual will bring unique knowledge and expertise. They can share these with the team to create a winning launch strategy that gives customers a unified experience with your brand. They can also share what they’ve learned with the rest of their department, leading to stronger cross-team collaboration in the future.

You can find digital software solutions to aid collaboration on projects regardless of location. For example, accounting software for small business owners works in the cloud, so you and your employees have access to the same data wherever you are in the world. This also comes with various features to improve efficiency, like automated data entry and payroll.

With the right software, cross-team collaboration and communication are a breeze.

Keep communication channels open

It’s important to create open lines of communication between departments too—for instance, by investing in digital collaboration tools. 

Tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams allow employees to communicate face-to-face from anywhere in the world, breaking down barriers.

Image sourced from financesonline.com

Document sharing and project management platforms also enable teams to work together in the cloud in real-time, while instant messaging platforms like Slack empower everyone in the company to share information without leaving their desks.

In addition, department managers can appoint a liaison to organize cross-departmental training and joint meetings. They can act as mediators if conflicts arise.

Foster knowledge sharing 

Here are some tips on how to encourage knowledge sharing within and between teams:

  • Encourage communication. By encouraging communication, management teams can create a corporate culture based on sharing. Employees will feel more comfortable sharing their ideas, leading to greater innovation and creativity.
  • Have regular meetings. Hold weekly or monthly meetings where employees from different departments share information and pool their knowledge. This is a great way to problem-solve and makes sure that everyone is working toward the same goals.
  • Create a knowledge base. Invest in a knowledge management platform where employees can document and share their knowledge. Everyone will thus have the same information, eliminating duplicated work and fostering collaboration.

Break down barriers

Finally, breaking down physical barriers in the office makes it easier for employees to see and talk to each other. Instead of discrete departments, you could have an open-plan office with no partitions. This will help employees feel and behave more like a team instead of autonomous departments.

If your offices have more than one floor, house complementary departments in the same area. For example, you could have your sales, marketing, and customer service teams on one floor and finance and HR on another.

There are also smaller changes you can make—for example, you could have shared break rooms or areas where individual employees can socialize with each other.

Overcoming challenges

Depending on how entrenched your work silos are, it can be challenging to break them up. This is especially true when setting up cross-functional teams. Below are some common challenges and how to overcome them.

Progress tracking

To break down silos and keep them from reforming, it’s vital to track your progress. You can do this by gathering feedback—for instance, by using employee surveys and meetings. You should also track performance metrics like employee engagement and productivity.

One way to do this is with software for time tracking. You can track attendance, productivity, work performance, and engagement in real time, giving you full visibility into your workforce. If any of your metrics start to slip, you can review your processes and find solutions.

Time tracking software gives you and your employees access to data anywhere and at any time. Plus, you can track projects, check availability, and manage your resources more effectively.

Progress tracking not only makes sure you achieve your goals but helps you identify ways to improve collaboration in the future.

Benchmark and goal setting

The final step is to set long-term and short-term goals and communicate these to everyone in the company. These should be SMART i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

You can create specific objectives for each department, but be sure to emphasize how they’ll help achieve the company's wider goals. If everyone is working toward the same strategic ambitions, it will help to prevent silos from reforming.

You’ll also need to create relevant benchmarks to measure the achievement of goals. For example, if you aim to increase company revenue by X amount per year, your benchmark will most likely be last year’s revenue.

Case studies

Below are three examples of companies that have successfully broken down silos and improved collaboration throughout their organizations.  

  1. The New York Times 

The New York Times team consisted of various different technology groups, like a digital tech group and a print and corporate tech group, which inevitably led to the formation of data silos.

To better leverage its data, The New York Times created an overarching data science and engineering group. It also created an online dashboard of all the company’s metrics so everyone could work from the same data.

Image sourced from airtable.com
  1. Elavon

Elavon wanted to eliminate the silo mentality from its organization. Together with BraveSpace, it designed an experience-based training program to promote collaboration, resilience, and interpersonal skills.

Using improvisation techniques, employees could practice different behaviors and experience alternative outcomes. Elements included:

  • Building trust with active listening
  • Suspending judgment
  • Looking for non-verbal cues
  • Affirming a message
  • Being present in the moment

Afterward, employees applied the techniques they learned to their everyday work, improving communication, trust, and collaboration company-wide.

  1. Procter & Gamble

Procter & Gamble aimed to break down silos and promote cross-functional collaboration. In 2001, it launched its “Connect and Develop” program, which connected its internal teams with external partners like startups, suppliers, and universities. This gave it access to a greater range of expertise and resources, helping to foster innovation.

Takeaway

Company silos can hinder productivity, stifle innovation, and lead to conflict and mistrust. This damaging mentality is usually the result of poor communication and geographic isolation. To combat it, companies must foster collaboration and trust between teams. How? By removing barriers and promoting open communication with knowledge-sharing tools and techniques.

By breaking down silos, you too can create a happier, more efficient, and more profitable organization. To create a truly connected culture, though, you must continually assess and improve your performance to prevent silos from returning.

Browse our Free Employee Recognition Guide

Get the foundational knowledge on creating an employee recognition program that boosts employee engagement and helps them feel valued.

Explore Guide
Employee recognition guide