How to break down silo mentality in your organisation

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24 January 2023

9 tips for HR leaders to break down silos

Silo mentality is a topic on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days. After all, it poses a massive challenge for many established companies. But what exactly is meant by silo mentality? What are the causes of this phenomenon – and what solutions are there? We’ll give you an overview here and then provide 9 valuable tips for HR managers to help overcome the silo mentality. 


What is the meaning of silo mentality?  

The term ‘silo mentality’, also known as ‘siloed thinking’, refers to the compartmentalisation of departments and functions. 

A silo is a hermetically sealed storage facility without windows or other connections to the outside world. Just as each type of grain or feed is stored separately in its silo, the silos of a company also work on their own – without communication or exchange. Employees stew in their own juices, processes are not coordinated, or perhaps even duplicated, and in the worst case, proceed in the opposite direction to the silo next door. 

The alarm bells should be ringing for HR professionals, as the productive potential of human resources cannot be unleashed by adopting such an approach. In the digital era, the importance of cross-functional exchange and maintaining a strategic overview can hardly be overestimated – yet silo thinking stands in the way of all this. 


Causes and effects of silo mentality in a company

Silo thinking is actually the consequence of something incredibly productive, namely the division of labour. After all, history has demonstrated that the incredible efficiency of today’s modern economy can only be achieved when employees and departments have their own specialist areas.


However, a silo mentality is the complete opposite of this. In short, efficiency becomes inefficiency above a certain threshold. Specialisation becomes tunnel vision that no longer extends beyond the boundaries of the person’s own department. This is further reinforced by the careers typical of many employees, who remain within the same department all their working lives. Further causes may lie in the geographical separation of different divisions or subsidiaries of a company.

Finally, silo thinking can also arise if an acquired company with its own culture is not integrated properly. The consequences of such a mentality are tragic – and are often not easy for HR professionals to grasp. 


Close interaction between departments is becoming increasingly vital in many areas today, such as between business and IT. However, silo mentality hinders the sharing of information, leaving no room for cross-functional knowledge to emerge. These are sub-optimal conditions for discussions, suggestions and learning from one another. For example, the high degree of self-centredness of those within the silo leads to a process owner making optimisations exclusively with their area in mind – while ignoring the (possibly negative!) impact on other areas.  


This can happen out of sheer ignorance, yet sometimes it’s a result of counterproductive social dynamics. Antagonism, potentially harmful competition, or jealousy between departments can quickly lead to the big =picture being forgotten as well as to budget conflicts caused by a desire to defend the department’s honour. The result? Inefficiency, a lack of innovation, a negative ambiance, and lasting damage to the corporate culture. 


9 tips for HR managers to overcome silo mentality in their workplace 

The bottom line is clear: a silo mentality is harmful and should be either avoided or overcome at all costs. HR professionals can do a lot to help here, as it all boils down to employee attitudes and behaviour. Here are nine tips to help you break down these silos: 

1. Start with the leaders 

To prevent a silo mentality from emerging, you should minimise cross-functional competition to a healthy level. This starts with the management team: cross-functional interaction will only permeate throughout the whole company if there is a (perceptibly) cooperative spirit at the highest level. 


2. Create a common goal 

Whether it’s a vision, mission statement, purpose or corporate philosophy, formulating a common mission will help all employees find their bearings and open their eyes to the big picture. It goes without saying that it is crucial this vision is actually put into practice. 


3. Consider the geographical unity of the teams 

Spatial separation is a difficult analogue challenge that can encourage silo mentality – even in the era of digitalisation. When the issue of distance cannot be resolved, technological solutions should be used as an alternative (see tip 9).  


4. Introduce end-to-end process ownership 

A suitable organisational setup should ensure that each process owner has an end-to-end overview of the entire process – including what is happening outside their own department. 


5. Establish cross-functional teams 

Depending on the topic, it makes sense to form teams with representatives from different functions. A classic case is IT projects whose success depends on valuable input from the business side. Provided the roles are clearly defined, cross-functional approaches lead to greater agility, creativity and productivity within teams. What’s more, you can also introduce exchange projects and opportunities (e.g. temporary work assignments in other areas). 


6. Create cross-functional incentives 

Organisational changes should also be underpinned by appropriate incentives. 


7. Speak the same language 

Our language determines our thinking. That’s why it’s also worth reflecting on language-related communication challenges and misunderstandings when it comes to silo mentality, such as in workshops or training sessions. Technical experts with a love for figures should try to consider things from the perspective of the layman. The corporate vision should be formulated in language that resonates with all employees and thereby provide a platform for exchange and discussion. 


8. Use consistent technology 

When different, incompatible technologies are utilised across different areas, this poses much more than just a technical challenge. By contrast, common data platforms and similar approaches (data lake), lay the technological foundations for interaction. 


9. Use communication technology 

In addition, using specialised digital enablers for communication should be kept in mind. Knowledge platforms, internal social networks and other tools can help strengthen cross-functional employee engagement in a targeted manner. 


Out of the silo: the way forward 

A silo mentality can emerge in all organisations with various departments – in other words, pretty much everywhere in business. To ensure the success of tomorrow’s digital knowledge-based economy, now is high time for employees to remove their blinkers and tear down silos.

HR experts in companies should be as proactive as possible in helping them to do this – for the sake of communication, agility and innovation. To help you recruit appropriately qualified IT candidates to fit into communication-driven teams, why not take advantage of Experis’ range of specialised recruitment services