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Breaking the silo mentality

Overcoming the silo mentality is no easy feat, but it is imperative if business leaders and organisations are to survive and thrive.

Ask any business leader today what their biggest barrier is to driving innovation, building momentum or increasing efficiency and they will very quickly tell you it is ‘silos’. Invariably their answer is quickly followed by stories of immense frustration, team hostilities and painful recounts of missed opportunities, damaged relationships and a very real impact to bottom lines.

Like grain silos, business silos house precious resources that are separated according to type and are difficult to gain access to. While this might work well in housing and protecting grain from nature’s elements, it’s not so beneficial when it comes to business innovation, efficiency and collaboration. Unfortunately though, too many businesses are losing market share because of their siloed way of working and the employee mindsets that are permeating workplace cultures.

The silo mentality is broadly defined as ‘a mindset present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company’. Often it is evidenced through a ‘them and us’ attitude; an ‘it’s not part of my job’ approach; or situations that see individuals and teams hamstrung and unable to progress because you either have to wait or chase information from others.

Typically, the bigger the organisation the more damaging and impeding the silos can be. With the very nature of work rapidly changing and continuously pivoting, business leaders can’t afford to not examine how silos may be limiting both the success of the business and their own impact as a leader.

Patrick Lencioni, author of Silos, Politics and Turf Wars describes how silos – ‘and the turf wars they enable devastate organsiations: They waste resources, kill productivity, push good people out the door and jeopardise the achievement of goals’. To overcome them he highlights the need for strong unified leadership that is prepared to look past the behaviours that result from silos and focus on the contextual issues that are often at the heart of the organisation.

While it can be very easy to assume that the inefficiencies and lack of collaboration in a team or organisation are a result of employees not knowing how to play nicely together, often the behaviours result from a sense of powerlessness to actually do anything about the problems they have identified. Leadership teams who recognise this and seek to create solutions that remove roadblocks, facilitate new ways of working and empower employees will create long-term solutions that are easy to execute and scalable.

3 leadership tips to overcoming the silo mentality:

  1. Unify
  2. Silo mentalities are rarely created from the ground up. Leadership teams who are unified in their vision, committed to their strategy and consistent in their communication create high trust environments that empower and enable others. They help break down the barriers that get in the way of success and lay the foundations for high performing cultures.

  3. Focus
  4. When leaders and their teams are clear on the vision, they are able to focus with crystal clarity on the goals at hand. It is easier for employees to identify the role they play, take ownership for their outcomes and identify any roadblocks or enablers to their success. When individuals understand the impact that they have and the interconnected nature of their teams, aligning and focusing on the overarching goals is more obtainable.

  5. Recognise
  6. In order to successfully deliver on a company vision and strategy, leaders need to understand and recognise what motivates, inspires and incentivises individual employees. When they do, employees are more likely to stop ‘protecting their patch’ and engage more collaboratively and productively.


  1. Reed Deshler

    I enjoyed your article Margot. I find that linkages are key to collaboration within an organization. I see linkages as mechanisms that bring together people who need to work across boundaries. They help to create shared experience, shared mentality, and shared interest in people from different groups who need to be networked. The very strongest linkage develops when a leader with a collaborative mind-set spontaneously recognizes the connections between his or her group and the rest of the organization and acts to bring people together to tighten these bonds. In many ways the organization’s cultural values determine how much linking happens naturally and informally.

  2. Cathy Ferguson

    I concur, this is a huge barrier. But it’s right that executives act as advocates for those in their constituency, and because of that we will always have differing priorities and perspectives. The trick is to build communication sills that enable senior executives to negotiate successfully their way across the divides to unified action.

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