Silos are effective tools for enclosing and protecting their contents. Although that's unquestionably advantageous for farming, this is not often the case in business.
Several books have been written about silos, including Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, which explains how silos "...waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals."
If you've worked in a large company or two, you've likely already experienced the silo mentality.
Perhaps a given department had its own way of thinking. Maybe it didn't like sharing its data; perhaps requests that didn't fit its departmental mission were ignored. Maybe it squandered resources to protect next year's budget.
While each silo may have been successful independently, the company as a whole likely suffered from lost efficiency, and lost opportunities for collaboration. It's often the case that resources are wasted, employee productivity suffers, and high-level goals aren't fulfilled to their true potential in companies with impenetrable silos.
Most modern organizations actively seek out ways to improve employee productivity, teamwork, and engagement -- silos often obstruct that process.
Imagine you've invested in a new system designed to improve productivity and communication across departments. While the tools may be in place, unless the barriers are addressed, those tools will struggle to offer their full potential.
It's difficult to increase your own efficiency when a coworker pushes your request to the bottom of the pile because they're prioritizing their own department. It's hard to feel like part of an effective organization when there are clearly several distinct teams who don't fully cooperate with one another.
So, how do you Break free from silos?
Communicate Organizational Goals
The first step is to communicate the importance of the larger, common goals your organization works to achieve. When everyone is on the same team and working toward a common goal, silos become irrelevant. The mindset needs to shift away from "I'm in marketing" or "I'm in HR" or "I'm in inventory management" to "I'm part of the company and I'm working to achieve success."
Let's use improving customer/client experience as an example, because it's an important metric for most successful businesses. Each department will have a different role to play based on their interactions with customers, but the ultimate goal of ensuring a fantastic customer experience is shared across each department.
Once everyone realizes that they are all working to achieve the same thing, they'll be more likely to cooperate with one another, despite departmental differences. After all, the shipping clerk isn't asking for help in verifying a delivery address just to be a pain, she needs it to help ensure an exceptional customer experience.
Set an Example
It's important to actively encourage collaboration. Set the example yourself by reaching across departmental boundaries, and expressing the benefits. Make interdepartmental communication a priority, and show it in your own actions.
You can use rewards and recognition to help facilitate this change in mindset. If you can tie rewards to your shared vision and outcomes, all the better. Using peer recognition builds effective bridges over those previous boundaries. For example, empowering a shipping clerk to recognize and reward someone from sales for taking the time to verify a customer's address would foster greater cooperation between the two departments.