Functional Silos and the Cost of not Collaborating

What is a silo? 

One of the best ways to understand what functional silos are is to understand where you find them. Silos can cut across an organization in a variety of ways. Typically, when we imagine silos, they singularly exist among different departments. However, they are commonly also found within departments, teams, organizational “levels”, and more. Leaders can create silos between themselves and the rest of their team or, at their worst, silos can even cut us off from our customers. In short, functional silos can be found just about anywhere.

Silos occur when individuals don’t fully understand how to work as teams or collaborators. They lose sight of who is working on what and as a result of poor visibility, work is duplicated and individuals are demotivated. Ultimately, individuals lose understanding of why they are doing what they are doing and zoom in on tasks and projects instead of focusing on products, outcomes and strategy.   


The silo mindset: 

“Before I share what I am working on, it needs to be perfect” 

“I want my unique contribution to be recognized” 

“I’ve done this before and I know best so let’s do it my way” 

“Meetings are unproductive, I don’t want to waste time on a daily standup”

“I think this is what our customers want” 

“Our team members must focus on our own goals. Unplanned, external requests are just distractions”

The silo mindset is contrary to an Agile mindset in every way. Transparency, collaboration, respect, curiosity, vulnerability and the spirit of iteration and learning are all stifled by functional silos. Digital transformations don’t stand a chance if the spirit of agility is missing and human centered value is no longer a top priority.


The Agility to be missed: 

  • Reduced speed to market, or worse, delivering the wrong thing When we work in silos, the scramble to put disparate pieces together is a huge barrier to acceleration and frequently results in delivering the wrong thing all together. Undefined or over defined roles, responsibilities and hand-offs can cause both gaps and duplication of work.
  • Lack of direction and purpose – When individuals can not see or understand beyond their role, work remains fragmented and organizational goals are no longer a shared priority.
  • Learning is halted – Sharing skills, insights and experiences promotes organizational learning and sparks innovation, feedback, and strategies needed to form stronger teams. With missing collaboration, all of these capabilities go missing because inspecting, adapting and sharing feedback is a group activity.
  • Toxic Culture – Silos pit groups against one another. The company culture becomes competitive and individuals do not feel supported, leading team spirit to fizzle. Resistance to change also stems from a culture of keeping information to oneself or confined within functional silos.
    • Innovation Dies – When learning stops, innovation dies. Education and continued curiosity empowers individuals to own and strategize more lofty goals and bigger ideas. Conversely, when individuals don’t know why they are doing what they are doing, they are unable to bring better ideas to the group.


Listen up leaders – it starts with you

By now we know that a huge driver of a successful digital transformation is a strong, supportive and involved leadership approach. Here are some questions leaders should ask themselves to create the spirit of agility and collapse functional silos:


Are you serving your people? 

We’ve heard the term servant leadership, but what exactly does it mean? Instead of a traditional organizational structure with executives at the top of the pyramid, servant leaders put customers at the center of the organization and focus on serving the team members who contribute to customer value. This involves working cross functionally to deliver the best possible product to the customer and necessarily focusing on value streams over business units.


Are you measuring the right results?

Many times, the wrong metrics are the ones most commonly tracked. Analytics, along with teams that are siloed and fail to provide a holistic view of value in an organization. By leveraging an integrated tech stack, that transcends people, processes and business units, executives and leaders can better see the fastest path to value, and conversely, where bottlenecks may be slowing it down. Learn more about how to capture the right enterprise data to make good decisions in our webinar: The Data to Pivot 


Do your employees understand business outcomes? 

Tunnel vision of individuals is one of the biggest blockers to transformation success. Everyone in the organization needs a big picture view of business outcomes in order to contribute towards them most effectively. However, only an estimated 7% of employees say they know their organizational objectives. Leaders must bring their team members into discussions that bring clarity to objectives and encourage the flow of ideas from other groups. Check out our Prepare and Roadmap Workshop for Executives to learn more.

Are you allowing the free flow of ideas and information for the best possible collaboration?

Many leaders unknowingly stifle innovation by keeping team members tightly bound to teams, roles, skills and functions. Performance and individual growth remains constrained and team spirit and collaboration are drowned. This leads to poor transparency, unmotivated teams, competition and an unhealthy work environment. Learn how to promote free flowing information and organization wide collaboration with tools like Slack. 


Other questions leaders need to be asking:
  • Are you leading by example?
  • Are you communicating the organizational vision to all employees continuously? 
  • Are you inviting your clients, partners and employees to explore and share ideas together?
  • Have you set up a safe environment for trust and collaboration? 

5 tips to break down silos

  • Map your value. If the goal is to get value to the customer, assessing your value stream will help to understand how to best re-architect processes, tools and work for faster value creation. 
  • Do a daily standup. Three simple questions and 10-15 minutes a day can bring a new level of collaboration to groups at any level. What did you do today, what are you doing tomorrow, what is blocking you?
  • Learn how to speak up as well as listen to other voices 
  • Don’t worry about saying the “wrong thing”. If we walk the walk and talk the talk we can breed a cross-organizational culture of respect and sharing.
  • Facilitators, change agents or silent leaders can help to enable and spread the flow of information 
  • Assign representatives from each team or unit to work together daily on critical projects – at Cprime, we call them “tiger teams” 
  • Invite members outside of your team to meeting cadences
  • Carve out time to have conversations with customers to get accurate and timely feedback 


In summary, one of the fastest ways to sabotage a digital transformation is to allow functional silos to undermine the Agile mindset and the spirit of collaboration and communication in your organization. In our last blog of the series, Failure Files: Tooling Driven Business Process, we highlighted dangers of leaving people and process out of your digital transformation. Taking it a step further, we now see that soft skills are hard fought and that the spirit of change must transcend every crack and crevice of the organization if true Agility is to be achieved. Zooming out and understanding how value is delivered to your customers helps us to understand how we must align our people, process and technology in order to enable this unhindered flow. 

Learn how Cprime Enterprise Solutions not only connect technology but reimagine the collaboration and engagement points where different business leaders, business stakeholders and business units interact to give way to improved collaboration, transparency and trust. 

Reorganize collaboration and value in your organization

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Marie Christine Legault, Head of Canada
Marie Christine Legault, Head of Canada