Are functional silos stunting your business success?

Are functional silos stunting your business success?

“No man is an island” 

This is according to the 1624 poem of the same name by John Donne. And yet here we are, in the 21st Century, witnessing many businesses struggle to achieve success due to the presence of functional silos within their workforce. Functional silos refer to teams, grouped by function, working independently of each other. No collaboration. No shared goals. And certainly no visibility of their progress to the wider business!

This model of working is particularly evident in established enterprise organisations. It’s a traditional approach that many business leaders favour because they believe it focuses people within their individual areas of expertise. 

Why are functional silos a problem?

The problem with silos is that they often result in the following issues:

  • Duplication of effort
    If teams are working independently of each other, they may repeat work that’s already been done. There’s also no opportunity to piggyback off existing processes, systems, documentation and other proven ways of working.
  • A lack of transparency across teams
    Don’t underestimate the importance of transparency. All teams across the business should have visibility of your company goals and how their role contributes to achieving them. Equally important is that they have visibility of what other teams are working on. This can help unlock any opportunities to sync up, join forces, pivot or share knowledge.
  • Culture
    If various teams are working independently, there’s little need for them to communicate with colleagues outside of their designated projects. This isn’t great for building a collaborative company culture, which is vital to the success of any business. It also makes it more challenging for employees to integrate into other teams if they move roles or are seconded for short-term projects.
  • It blocks diversity
    Often, teams are composed of like-minded individuals who think and work in similar ways. This can prove useful for establishing a close-knit culture within the confines of the team. But without exposure to people across the organisation who have different backgrounds, beliefs and ways of working, creativity cannot flourish. When working with people who are exactly like them, employees can become single-minded in the way they think and work. 
“The value of horizontal teamwork is widely recognised. Employees who can reach outside their silos to find colleagues with complementary expertise learn more, sell more, and gain skills faster.”

Harvard Business Review

The impact of silos when remote working

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many companies to continue encouraging remote working, employees need to connect with their colleagues in new ways. For those companies who are used to working in a collaborative and transparent environment, the change may not feel so daunting. But for the many businesses in which silos are the norm, progress may have slowed and employees could be struggling.

The biggest issue with silos in the context of remote working is a lack of transparency from the rest of the business. It’s tricky to keep communication flowing within a single functional team, let alone across multiple teams and functions.

Breaking down silos and having a cross-functional team structure in place will make the adjustment to remote working much smoother. But if this doesn’t sound like your company structure, then all is not lost. By improving communication, collaboration and transparency across functions and teams, you can replicate the culture and success of cross-functional, Agile organisations.

“Nearly 60% of remote workers say they miss important information because it was communicated from one person to another.”

Trello Blog

Motivation and morale

A lack of motivation is another indicator that silos are harming your remote workforce. If your staff don’t have visibility of why what they’re working on matters and of what other teams are doing to contribute towards the overarching business objectives, they may feel stuck in a metaphorical tunnel. 

It can be hard to feel motivated at the best of times when remote working. But it’s a whole lot harder when one doesn’t feel part of a bigger community who are all sharing their experiences and collaborating from afar.

A man sitting alone on an island

How to break down silos

The first (and biggest) change you’ll need to make to break down existing silos is to start at the top. Your leadership team needs to set an example by modelling what cross-functional collaboration looks like. This means spending time understanding what other teams are working on, aligning goals and ensuring transparency of progress across teams.

Managers should actively encourage their teams to reach out to other teams and seek knowledge, lessons, insight and opinions related to their existing projects. This may not come naturally to some employees, so it’s very important for managers to exhibit this behaviour and set an example. It’s equally important for line managers to set targets that reward the practice of engaging with other teams. This is a critical step towards breaking those silos from the top down.

“Instead of holding one-way information sessions, leaders should set up cross-silo discussions that help employees see the world through the eyes of customers or colleagues in other parts of the company.”

Harvard Business Review

Silo-breaking software

It can also be helpful to invest in software that is designed to facilitate the sharing of goals, progress and performance across the business. This would have the effect of breaking down silos for you. For example, our OKR software allows teams to set their objectives and key results (OKRs), which are aligned to the overall company goals. 

Critically, anyone in the business can view the status and details of these OKRs in real-time. No need to set up lengthy meetings or chase around the business trying to gauge the who, what, when and why of a particular project. Users of our OKR software are also able to see who is responsible for each part of the project, so they know who to contact if they have any questions. 

It’s a simple model with a proven track record of busting silos and improving efficiency. Once teams begin sharing and collaborating in this way, they become more productive, more focused and more motivated. 

We’d love to talk you through some examples of this approach in practice and give you a demo of our groundbreaking OKRs platform


About Just3Things

Starting as an internal project at OVO Energy; Just3Things was instrumental in maintaining the company's competitive advantage as it rapidly scaled from five to over 5,000 people spread over six offices. Our OKR software saved OVO more than £3 million a year in lost productivity and endless meetings.

It soon became clear that we had something special. So, we separated from our birthplace and are now helping companies around the world to show their teams the bigger picture, keep them focused on what matters, and to learn and adapt as they go.

Get in touch to learn more or to book a free demo!

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