Overcoming the Information Silo Mentality

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The Business Dictionary defines the ‘silo mentality’ as a mindset present when certain departments or sectors are reluctant to share information with colleagues in different departments of a company.  This mentality reduces operational efficiencies, reduces morale, and negatively affects company culture.  Organizational silos also stand in the way of innovation and growth, by preventing colleagues from realizing the positive benefits of teamwork and collaboration.

One way to overcome this mentality is to create a consolidated system where information can be stored and accessed by anyone who needs it.  Implementing such a system can actually lead to more productive staff because they don’t have to waste time duplicating the efforts of past employees. According to the 2019 Global Intelligent Information Management (IIM) Benchmark report, at least 80% of workers worldwide are forced to recreate lost documents already in existence because they cannot locate them!  Data also suggest that employees who can fully engage with a company and its information feel more a part of the team. These are important issues to keep in mind for maintaining a productive and enthusiastic workforce.

In some industries, data and documents may exist in up to 20 different departments, each of which may exercise proprietary ownership of their data.  Therefore, breaking down the silo mentality is an exercise in departmental buy-in.  Individual departments must be convinced that their data are valuable and will benefit the company as a whole.  Ideally, this effort will be led by a company-wide data champion who is empowered by senior leadership to build a team that includes representatives and input from all the silo owners.  And importantly, data integration cannot be viewed by the silo owners as an optional activity, but rather as a strategic initiative that will be included as a key performance indicator at annual review time.

Here are a few key steps to consider as you begin to break down the silos:

Educate, work, and train together 

One way to break down silos is to educate, work, and train together in cross-departmental exercises. Because companies already figure training costs into their budgets, collaborative training across divisions is a way to dovetail required training with collaborative, silo-breaking practices.

In addition to collaborative training, the silo mentality can also be eradicated through inter-company interactions.  Perhaps you might consider convening a company town hall to point out the dangers of silo mentality and outlining the plan to change the corporate culture to increase cooperation, communication, and collaboration.

Make documents discoverable 

Knowledge locked away in restricted documents is knowledge wasted. Whether you use a cloud-based storage system or a literature management system, set up your pages and documents to be collaborative. Make them open by default with as few usage restrictions as possible.  

Use shared chat rooms liberally

Group chat isn’t just for exchanging info with your immediate team. Tools such as Slack or Teams can be set for specific workstreams, projects, and interests. That way, people from anywhere in the company can pop in to ask a question or get up to speed by scrolling back through the chat history.  Encourage folks to use these channels instead of email, which by its nature, locks information into a silo that is available only to the people on the distribution list.  

Information and the speed at which it flows throughout an organization is a key determinant of business success—the faster your staff can find and leverage information, the better your chances to achieve a competitive advantage.   By using strategies that encourage individuals to think of themselves as part of the broader organizational team, more cross-functional collaboration can become a reality.

Jill Shuman

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