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How The 'Silo Effect' Is Hurting Cross Team Collaboration

how to reduce the silo effect

The phrase “silo effect” might sound a little eerie at first, like the result of a creepy sci-fi movie that takes place on a farm. But what is it, really?

The silo effect occurs when separate departments or teams within an organization don’t have a system to communicate effectively with each other – and productivity suffers because of it. One quintessential example of the silo effect is when two departments are working on practically identical initiatives, but neither of them is even aware of what the other is doing.

Despite the fact that employees are more technologically interconnected than ever before, the silo effect continues to be a problem in offices of all types. Don’t believe it? Check out these stats:

  • 39% of employees within a surveyed group believe that there isn’t enough collaboration between people in their organization.
  • 86% of polled executives and employees blame a lack of collaboration or bad communication for team problems and failures.
  • Less than 50% of respondents thought their organizations effectively and honestly discussed issues with employees.

Geographical distances, physical spaces, managerial differences, security issues, among other things, are all reasons why an office silo may develop. After all, different teams usually specialize in different areas – and that’s a good thing. A Jack of all trades is a master of none, right? Maybe not with the silo.

But too much segmentation hurts productivity, profitability, and inter-office cohesion. So although the silo effect causes problems for teams, getting rid of silos altogether will result in additional chaos.

So, how can you foster cross-team collaboration while maintaining necessary job differentiation? Let’s explore and find the balance! 

What Causes Silos?

Team collaboration management tips

While individual employees within different areas might not work together on a day-to-day basis, it’s important that the managers of these separate teams do.

Daily or (at the very least) weekly meetings can help many organizations to keep everyone informed of what other departments are working on. Especially with large organizations, discussions of larger company goals during these meetings can also help managers decide how to best share work among departments – which gives employees unique opportunities to collaborate.

Sometimes silos can develop because of differences in opinion or down barriers between department leaders over priorities. This is another thing that can be alleviated with open and honest meetings – as opposed to just one or two executives as the only people who really know what’s happening company-wide.

It's a system that greatly improves the organization from management to individuals.

Come Together, Right Now

Meaningful creative collaboration between employees with various skill sets is another great way to facilitate long-term communication within a silo. Give employees the chance to work closely together on large-scale projects that matter.

According to HR.com, identifying and catering to different skill sets is a way to prevent “one size fits all” approaches to management. By identifying the strengths of different employees, it’s easier to find areas where two or more people can work together to mitigate each other’s shortcomings:


Image source: HR.com

This will not only lead to excellent work, but will also help create a sense that everyone involved is building something special together – and these types of shared experiences forge real bonds. It can also make things easier on management, thanks to the cross-departmental communication.

When Mainstreethost, a digital marketing and SEO agency, upgraded their website they utilized this tactic to great success.

As Jessica Marranco, Lead Content Strategist in the Inbound Department, explains: 

“Coming together to redesign our company’s website was hugely impactful for all involved. Not only had most of us never worked on a project of this scale, but coming from different departments, we had never worked together on any project. By communicating consistently through a coordinated Trello board - as well as getting together face-to-face - we were able to bring our shared vision to life. I can honestly say that each member of the team walked away with more knowledge than we had when we began the project."

See You in the Cloud

Team collaboration digital tools in the cloud

It’s 2016, and gone are the days of sending hundreds of Word documents back and forth via an endless email string. Most companies have a chat platform to help them stay connected with colleagues during the day.

There are many tools out there specifically designed to facilitate communication between employees wherever they are. And when you’re trying to open up lines of communication between separated groups, convenience and efficiency are especially important because everyone has to be on the same page.

Google Drive is an obvious example of a tool that accomplishes these goals. The Documents feature, for example, allows for multiple users to edit a single document simultaneously and in real time.

Google Docs have such widespread applications that other platforms have created custom extensions to make it easy to attach and share them on their own software – including Trello.

Google Drive in Trello for team collaboration

The Google Drive Power-Up in Trello provides previews and meta data about the doc, including recent updates and when it was created.

Instead of attaching Word document after Word document with edits and re-edits, Trello allows you to connect directly to one single Google Doc. And you only need one because of the real-time editing capabilities.

If you’re looking for even more collaboration capabilities, Slack is another platform that can actually combine Google Docs, Trello notifications, and other attachments all in one place!

One could almost say that these three together are kind of a trifecta of transfers, a pod of productiveness, a cluster of communications…

The Business Of Blurred Lines

Blur the silo effect for better team collaboration

Differentiation across departments and teams is a good thing, but sometimes it can also be beneficial to create a mashup of skills and duties.

The technology landscape has completely changed our ideas of certain company roles. This means that many professionals have had to venture outside their comfort zones as roles shift along with trends.

A great example of this is the traditional customer service department. In the past, customer service representatives communicated with customers over the phone, and later on through online reviews. But nowadays, the roles of social media specialists and customer service professionals are pretty blurred.

67% of United States online consumers use social media (most often Twitter and Facebook) for customer service needs.

No doubt this trend has forced social media experts to develop some customer relations skills and vice versa. It also creates a need for these two departments to develop some common goals, best practices, and a consistent voice.

You can’t have someone on the phone telling people one thing, while another department is tweeting out totally opposing information. In situations like these, cross-team collaboration is an absolute must.

Other departments that have also started systematically teaming up are: sales and marketing (smarketing), product design and web development, client consultants and SEO, and many more! Each one requires a collaborative effort to get everyone on the same page.  

Company leaders might think some of the above suggestions aren’t worth the time or money to implement fully, but the negative cost of having a segmented and siloed organization is incalculable.

If nothing else, providing an enjoyable and seamless experience for clients, customers and business partners should be enough motivation to start bringing your employees together a little more.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 but we've added a whole heap of new ideas and nuggets of information to it.

Good or bad, we'd love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello) or write in to support@trello.com

Next: 5 Ways You Can Have More Meaningful Conversations At Work