6 minutes

Communication silos are groups of people that form in corporations. Groups or departments talk only among themselves. They don’t consider the overarching goals of the business.

The word comes from agricultural practice. A silo is a large receptacle that holds a number of materials. In farming, silos keep their specific materials separate. This same concept applies to the business definition.

Communication silos can be dangerous. They cause information bottlenecks. They encourage office politics, reduce communication efficiency, and slow down progress. 

In a 2019 study, it was found that, on average, customer experience agents waste 15 percent of their time on poor communication with other employees, trying to obtain information to serve the customer.

Companies can’t afford to lose this much productivity to communication silos, so here are seven ways to break them down.

1. Connect people via a common goal

One of the problems when it comes to communication silos is that they all have respective interests. This divides employees into groups when they wouldn’t otherwise be so.

There may not be a way – or even a desire – to destroy the interests/goals of the silo, but you can use them to your advantage by emphasizing the company’s goals too. Linking employees to a business goal is an effective way to encourage cohesion.

Employees should be able to liaise on something that defines the business as a whole. This could be helping the customer to get the product, increasing community outreach, or providing the best service possible.

This is a common way for employees to connect in most businesses, and serving the customer is central to any company’s operations. The use of an XCaaS platform, which allows all employees to collaborate on this, can aid in this respect.

The marketing department could also create an internal manifesto. This promotes a unified vision of what the company stands for and what it hopes to achieve. Such a manifesto can encourage employees to stay motivated with what they’re doing and help them to see the bigger picture.

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The below framework illustrates how company goals are distinct from departmental and individual goals. Connecting people via a common goal doesn’t mean sacrificing their individual ambitions.

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2. Establish communication experts within the business

It’s a good idea to name individuals within silos who can communicate between them. Is someone in your team a particularly good communicator? These people lurk in various departments but are often not as appreciated as they should be.

Now is the time to put them to use! They could help bridge the gaps between silos. Nominate someone who can represent the voice of their silo and have this person report back.

These expert communicators within the company could also liaise with other silos. This will help them to provide key information to management. Information on the views of each silo is crucial. It can help to deconstruct groups and bring people together.

One of the markers of great leadership is empowering others to take the lead. They could be given a specific title to demonstrate their importance, such as ‘department spokesperson’ or ‘internal communicator’.

3. Open your office up

The physical layout of your office also makes a difference. Silos are often formed when departments or groups are in separate rooms. They don’t have the opportunity to communicate outside of these spaces.

In these small clusters, people will often talk among themselves. This is how ideas circulate inside a silo and the silo mentality becomes stronger.

The pandemic has brought with it added communication difficulties. Employees don’t casually chat to each other as they would in the office. Social media stress from too much time online has made employee interpersonal relationships worse too.

Yet for companies with communication silo issues, this has been an advantage. Silos are a lot less likely to form when employees are working from home. They don’t have the opportunity to form the same tight-knit friendships that make up a silo.

Businesses should promote an open environment to combat this. Consider changing the layout of your office to an open plan. Managers might also wish to alter seating arrangements. 

For example, if your business uses an agile approach to software development, consider the different teams involved in this. Can you mix them up so members of various silos are sat together rather than having each team isolated? This will help to break up communication silos and encourage cross-silo relationships.

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4. Use collaboration training

There are many training services out there for businesses. Some allow employees to spend time learning about ways to better communicate with other workers. This promotes improved team collaboration.

Training professionals are often keen to break down why groups communicate with each other in the way they do. They challenge employee misconceptions about others, as well as their beliefs about the company’s ethos.

Some will aim to “reprogram” employees’ interpersonal skills. They’ll help them to become more understanding of their peers.

This teaches those with a silo mentality to consider the feelings of others outside of the silo. In their daily work, they’ll start being able to unpick why someone from a different department or group may feel the way they do.

There is a cost associated with this method, but if the divide is deep-rooted, it may be your best option, encouraging empathy and aiding employee relations. If administered on a large scale, this can ease tension from all sides.

5. Team building exercises across departments

Team building days and exercises can also help to break down barriers. Employees are able to cooperate outside of a work setting.

Employees can be placed into groups that encourage the erosion of silos. Consider strategic placements. For example, choose one person from each formed silo and create a team.

This has the bonus of providing a perceived perk for employees. They’ll enjoy a day out with their colleagues. This could include obstacle courses, sports, treasure hunts, cooking, arts and crafts, or music events.

Even though this takes place on one day, it can have a lasting impact. Employees may start to see their colleagues in a different light. They’ll be more likely to form new friendships that have the potential to erode silos.

Team building can take place on a smaller scale too. Even quick icebreakers between meetings can encourage people to get to know each other. If your employees work from home, a voice over IP phone solution can provide a great platform for virtual games, which can be as effective as in-person activities.

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6. Install collaboration software

Businesses may also choose to invest in collaboration software. For example, internal social media sites such as Yammer, Workplace by Facebook, or Google Workspace.

Using chat services such as Slack or Google Chat can also provide a platform for employees to reach others outside of their immediate physical area.

Consider whether employees from different silos could collaborate on a particular scheme or project you have coming up. Some software is especially useful for aiding work across silos, enabling employees to access information from outside their department. This allows a level of transparency that can break down barriers.

A workforce optimization solution can also be used. These often have the necessary tools for collaboration.

7. Shadowing

What better way to encourage cross-departmental communication than sending one employee to see the work of another? They can learn more about the everyday tasks of the other department, including the challenges they face. This encourages them to become more understanding of others in the business.

Perhaps your HR department is experiencing issues with candidate numbers or your IT department is struggling with packet loss problems. Let key members of your other teams see their struggles firsthand. 

During shadowing, the employee will have the opportunity to meet other members of the department. They’ll get to know individuals outside of their group and can bring back this experience to their silo. This can reduce friction between departments.

They may consider friendships they hadn’t thought of before too. The shadowing could be the start of a potential connection that breaks down two colleagues’ respective silos.

Having the opportunity to be out of their comfort zone can also help employees gain a deeper understanding of their core role and where they fit into the business. This has the benefit of encouraging them to consider their value to the company. 

As a result, they might find ways to improve their efficiency and encourage positive changes. This might include, for example, the installation of a robotic process automation (RPA) system, so their job becomes less repetitive and more interesting.

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Preventing silos in the future

The above techniques will ensure you’re well on your way to breaking down dangerous communication silos, but although these will help to resolve problems, prevention is always the best policy.

The root cause of silos is a lack of unified leadership. Managers of various teams often aren’t aligned on a central business strategy. If employees experience strong leadership, they’ll feel more secure in their position and understand the company’s core direction.

So, businesses should focus on improving their management strategies. This will prevent silos from forming again. Methods include implementing a hierarchy that promotes accountability and choosing task tracking software to monitor your managers’ productivity.

A lot of time is wasted on poor communication between employees. Don’t let this become a problem for your business.