Unified Communications

How to Fix Workplace Silo Mentality

Explore practical strategies to combat workplace silo mentality, including embracing remote and flexible working, leveraging technology, and fostering a culture of collaboration, to improve communication and productivity across departments.
Dominic Kent
Dominic Kent is a content marketer specializing in unified communications and contact centers.
Workplace silos

You're suffering from workplace silo mentality. You're not alone.

In fact, Salesforce recently cited a study revealed that 70% of customer experience professionals and executives view silo mentality as the biggest obstacle to customer service.

They also suggested that 73 percent of sales teams say that collaborating across departments is critical to their overall sales process.

The stats speak for themselves. We have a problem.

Let's focus on how to ditch the silo mentality and fix your workplace woes.

What is the definition of workplace silo mentality?

Silo mentality is a kind of isolated mindset. 

People with this ethos believe that they belong to a specific group. These individuals won’t share resources and information with any outsiders.

Your sales team know everything there is to know about sales, but no-one else gets an insight into their strategies, or metrics. 

The result? Pockets of information that divide your team. 

People work better when they have a complete view of what’s going on around them. Your marketing expert needs sales and service insights to understand customers. A product development team can only make the right choices with data from sales groups.  

Silo mentality makes it impossible for your workforce to operate in unison. 

Getting rid of workplace silo mentality is how you build a more effective team.

What causes silo mentality?

Silo mentality is a problem with associated with company culture, business operations, and often technology.

Sometimes, employees create silos out of a sense of competition. Other times, it’s down to “the way we’ve always done it.”

If leaders don’t encourage everyone to work together, people form tight-knit groups. Employees only interact with the people they see every day. Sometimes, they even withhold information to give their group an edge. 

From a technology view, it’s hard for team members to bridge communication gaps without the right tools. In today’s landscape, where remote and global working is more common, how can your teams connect?

Is everyone using the same collaboration tools? Or are your contractors on Slack and internal staff in Microsoft Teams?

You can give external contractors a guest account on Microsoft Teams, but that won’t always work. Guest accounts have limited functionality

Plus, if your team members prefer another app, they’ll stick with it. Most people will fight against a change in technology.

How do you get rid of silos in the workplace?

Getting rid of workplace silo mentality means improving your business culture and processes. 

Teams need to:

  • Create a unified vision of collaboration: What does collaboration mean to your team? Do you all have regular group meetings to discuss projects? Do you discuss ideas over audio, and sketch on virtual whiteboards?
  • Build an information hub: Where do people go in your team to access information? Do you have a file-sharing system where people can find the answers to their questions? The right environment for collaboration needs to be accessible and well organized. 
  • Work, train, and grow together: Teams work better when they have stronger connections. Providing mentor programs and learning opportunities help with this. Use leadership boards to benchmark performance. 
  • Communicate more often: Have an open stream of communication for your team. Rather than having occasional calls, invest in instant messaging and channels. Keep the conversation going for every project. 
  • Get rid of workplace friction: Ensure everyone knows how to use your workplace tools. Avoid pushing employees into software they don’t want to use. Make sure every team member has access to the systems they need. 

Start with these steps:

1 - Ditch the open-plan office to reduce workplace silo mentality

Once upon a time, the open office was deemed a great idea.

For some people, the open office remains the preferred way of working. For the majority, it is a nuisance and only serves as an area you try to remove yourself from.

Insight for Professionals lists the following as pros of an open office environment:

  • Better communication and networking options
  • Cost-effective
  • Flexible setting
  • Easier supervision
  • Increased productivity

The argument that all the above could be achieved by removing the open office displaces them as genuine pros.

Research by Semantics Scholar shows that both employee satisfaction and productivity are in decline where an open office is the given working environment.

Another study by Harvard University suggests that open
office layouts dramatically cut employees’ face-to-face conversations at these companies — by as much as 70 percent.

Open offices often lead to workplace silos and distractions

Ultimately, it's your decision to keep or scrap the open office.

There are numerous studies that back up the notion that they are detrimental to productivity.

Why not see for yourself?

Try some of the following:

  • Conduct a survey of your employees that work in an open office and ask if they would feel happier/more productive in a different environment
  • Trial working in an alternate environment and track the number of meetings you save
  • Use a time tracking tool to compare how long activities take today versus in another environment

2 - Embrace remote working

Working from home is not a perk.

Many job descriptions of old (and some, even today) list working from home on a Friday as a perk.

If you ask the majority of the 8 million home workers in the US alone, you quickly understand that home working is not a perk.

Home working is a productivity enabler.

In some cases, it is necessary.

In others, it's crucial.

Remote working can be anywhere

Remote working doesn't mean you have to work from home.

The concept of remote working was long attached to having a day off because you were at home.

Remote working can be anywhere.

As long as there is an internet connection, you can be connected to your company at all times.

And when you don't need to be connected - like doing independent research - you can disconnect and truly work from anywhere. I often find solace in a coffee shop or my garden.

3 - Embrace flexible working

Flexible working used to come with the same stigma as working from home and be cataloged in the benefits section of a job description.

"The right to request flexible working" used to mean you could maybe start half an hour early if you had to collect the children after school.

Today, it means fitting your work time into what works.

This isn't a personal thing - although it might still be the collecting children example.

Flexible working is about working when and where it makes sense.

Here are some examples of flexible working empowering an individual and an organization:

  • Working across different time zones
  • Attending the sales meeting whilst traveling to see a prospect
  • Typing up notes on the train home from work instead of staying late
  • Catching up on emails and chats in your hotel when you're away on business
Flexible working

These have long been considered areas where teams have to work overtime.

When flexible working is adopted and encouraged, budgets can be saved with overtime disappearing. In turn, employees don't suffer burnout from overworking.

When you introduce remote working and flexible working into your business, there needs to be rules.

These can be unwritten rules but they do need to be adhered to. Here's a sample:

  • Don't pester staff after work hours; this can quickly become the norm if it's expected and leads to notification FOMO
  • Allow downtime during the "working day" - an always-on environment is not a productive one
  • Turn off notifications after work to truly allow yourself a home life when you're working from home
  • Use and respect calendars and presence - if somebody is away from their desk or in a meeting, wait until they are finished before calling

4 - Use technology to your advantage and fix workplace silo mentality

With buzzwords like digital transformation and agile working rife in the industry, it's easy to get tangled up in technology.

The long and short of it is that the right technology will aid your quest to remove silos in the workplace.

Chris Sanders, an analyst at Oxford University, wrote that millennials must drive technology advances in the modern workplace.

The reality here is that millennials can only do so much.

IT Managers, CIOs and IT Directors must listen to and review suggestions made by millennials and tech-savvy employees that potentially have better technology at home than they do at work.

In order to progress with steps 2 and 3 in this post, remote working and/or flexible working, some simple hardware and software changes need to be made.

Consider introducing or refreshing the following hardware:

  • Laptops for mobility; remove the tie to the desk
  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD); nobody needs to carry two phones when they can do everything on their personal phone
  • Cell phones or tablets; if BYOD is not for you
  • Home broadband; connectivity is cheap and some companies offer to cover the cost knowing they will gain it back in productivity

Consider introducing or refreshing the following software:

  • Cloud applications, in general, so you don't need to support network servers and VPNs
  • Project management tools like Smartsheet, Wrike or Mavenlink
  • Document storage like Dropbox, Box or Google Drive
  • Collaboration apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex
Microsoft Teams is one app that can help reduce workplace silos

5 - Drive culture from the top down

It's one thing saying you are going to communicate more or work better as a team.

However, as soon as the CEO stops responding to Slack messages and pings you an email on an unrelated topic, you lose the faith of your entire organization.

The thought process rapidly changes from "we should use this channel to be more productive" to "the boss doesn't bother, so why should we?"

Avoid the "why should we" mentality

According to Bloomfire, only 1 in 4 senior executives describe their organization as effective at sharing knowledge.

That means 3 in 4 companies are ineffective at sharing knowledge.

It's hard to provide steps to encourage your top-level executives to change habits of old.

In some companies, introducing anything new or different could be viewed as undermining authority.

Here are three keys steps that work (and have been tested to failing point):

  • Make sure it works - test whatever it is you are introducing (hardware, software, process) with different personas until nobody can find anything wrong with it. Then roll it out to your CEO with the expectation that they will find something they don't like.
  • Simple is best - nobody likes a new interface or new process if they think the old one was working for them. Anything that halts productivity or flow is viewed as a negative, even if it has long term benefits.
  • Have a backup - this applies to both the technical aspect and the physical aspect. Sometimes, even with all the planning in the world, things fail and a backup is a must. If the C-suite rejects your proposed change, make sure you have an alternative to position as the superior choice.

6 - Make your messaging apps interoperable to reduce workplace silo mentality

Once you've implemented your technology changes, specifically messaging or collaboration apps that best suit your business, demand more from them.

It is likely the case that users have suggested different apps will work better for their teams, and they will already be using some today.

Where multiple messaging platforms exist in an enterprise, we often see new workplace silo mentality created.

It would be simple for IT to banish shadow messaging apps and introduce a one-size-fits-all approach. However, one-size does not fit all.

The stereotype is that developers and engineers love Slack, knowledge workers opt for Microsoft Teams, and salespeople prefer Cisco Webex.

Whatever the preference across departments, Mio is there to work in the background and make your chat apps interoperable.

With Mio, users can keep the app of their personal choice and message users in other departments on the app of their colleague's choice.

Functionality starts with:

  • Direct messaging
  • Syncing entire channels and spaces
  • Calling
  • File uploads
  • Emojis and GIFs
  • Threaded messages
  • @ mentions
  • Message editing and deleting

Learn more at m.io.

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