Siloing and How to Fix it: A Whiteboards Guide to Breaking Through Silos in the Workplace

Siloing and How to Fix it: A Whiteboards Guide to Breaking Through Silos in the Workplace

Most of us are familiar with the agricultural silo: a tall, cylindrical, metal building that holds a single kind of grain or other feed. In farming, a proper silo protects the product from contamination. When it comes to the non-farm workplace, though, silos are echo chambers that lead to miscommunication, frustration, and reduced productivity.

Combating silos in business means taking intentional steps to improve how information is shared throughout the company.

Keep reading for practical tips on identifying and counteracting silo mentality in the workplace.

What is a silo in business?

Siloing is just what it sounds like: each department or team is working inside their own space and failing to share needed information with those outside that space. Remote teams naturally face an additional silo effect, since each employee is physically isolated from their coworkers.

What is a silo mentality in an organization? 

A silo mentality refers to the culture that results from an unhealthy level of separation between different teams, departments, or management tiers in a company. An organization suffering from the silo effect operates disjointedly because information isn’t flowing where it needs to go in a clear, timely, and thorough way.

When information channels are blocked, you’ll hear comments like:

  • “I don’t feel like dealing with so-and-so – I’ll just do the work myself.”
  • “Who am I even supposed to contact to get that report?”
  • “I’m not really sure what the point of this request is, but okay, whatever.”
  • “What does that department even do all day? I can never get a hold of them.”
  • “Why does it feel like my team does all the heavy lifting?”
  • “This new initiative feels like a lot of busywork. Who came up with this?”
  • “What’s the point of documenting this? No one over there pays attention anyway.”

When there are silos in business settings, other teams and departments often begin to seem like the competition. Silo culture means that getting the answers we need to do our work well can feel more like a negotiation than a friendly exchange between people on the same larger team.

Does my company have silo problems? 

How do you know if your workplace has a silo issue? You’ve probably already seen the silo effect. You might have a silo issue if you’re noticing one or more of the following themes:

  • Departments are competitive or antagonistic towards each other. 
  • Employees are unclear on who’s responsible for which tasks.
  • There are too many instances of duplicate work being done. 
  • Important tasks are regularly slipping through the cracks.
  • Accessing or understanding vital information is often difficult.
  • Teams appear to be working towards different goals or at cross purposes.
  • Customers complain that they are receiving mixed messages.
  • Branding is inconsistent or disjointed.

How does siloing affect the organization? 

An organization with silo problems suffers multiple compounding issues that ultimately affect the bottom line. You can see how the silo issues in the previous section inevitably lead to the following:

  • wasted time and resources
  • decreased employee morale
  • slower or inconsistent output
  • reduced product performance
  • poor customer service

Silos create a vicious cycle that can snowball if it’s left unaddressed. Teams can’t find the documentation they need and become frustrated. They make their best guess, then end up doing work that’s off-target. Something gets missed, and a release is delayed. Employees blame each other, or the leadership team. Customer care tries to patch up holes but can’t supply good solutions to users because they don’t really understand what’s going on, either.

At the heart of silo culture is a series of communication breakdowns. Silos create bad assumptions, misunderstandings, and sometimes hostility among different parts of the organization. 

How do you counteract the silo effect in the workplace? 

Address the root causes of silo culture.

Silo culture isn’t created intentionally. The silo effect creeps in wherever there are not clear, established processes in place to counteract it. To change silo culture, a company needs to address the deeper structural issues underlying it.

1. Resist documentation silos with better knowledge management.

Combat information silos with a transparent, accessible documentation plan. Anyone creating documentation should be able to answer these questions:

  • Who else needs access to this information?
  • Where can they expect to find it?
  • How do I make sure the content is easily understood outside my team?

Survey employees to discover where documentation is missing, misplaced, confusing, or redundant. Decide if you need to overhaul the documentation structure or just streamline certain processes. Consolidate documentation onto as few platforms as possible, then create a rubric that shows where to put types of documentation and what they need to contain. Maximize transparency by granting widespread access to any non-sensitive material.

Use Whiteboards as a virtual documentation hub. Create a coherent system of project whiteboards and label each one clearly. Store your finished meeting templates and associated documentation on the appropriate board for quick reference.

For practical solutions to information sharing using Whiteboards, read our guide on How to Use a Virtual Whiteboard as a Team Collaboration Hub.

2. Clarify roles, responsibilities, and communication expectations.

Even flawless documentation won’t solve the silo problem if a company doesn’t establish healthy communication practices. Counteract silo chaos with a unified vision and mission statement, and attach a communication plan. Define departmental roles and responsibilities in detail, and list a point person for each division who can serve as a knowledgeable and friendly ambassador for the team.

Establish where and how you will communicate about what types of issues, and streamline communications to as few platforms as possible. Instruct employees on how to leave comments on your Whiteboards documentation hub, where they can mention any other user to request clarification on a specific issue.

For more tips on overcoming communication barriers in the remote work environment, check out our article on How To Work With Distributed Teams.

3. Develop targeted plans to build trust and promote collaboration.

A key hallmark of silo culture is mistrust or hostility among individuals and departments. Communication, transparency, and accountability are essential to trust. But if you’re starting at a trust deficit, you’ll need to be intentional beyond just a new communication plan.

Search for anti-silo solutions using anonymous surveys that encourage employees to vent without fear of reprisal. Identify where communication breakdowns have eroded trust and make intentional repairs. Then, explore opportunities for designers, developers, marketers, and others to collaborate more directly to break down silos, cross-pollinate ideas, and drive innovation.

Build camaraderie among distributed team members with our Top 10 Remote Team-Building Ideas. Ready to combat silo culture further? Explore the benefits and challenges of deeper multi-team project work in our post on Harnessing the Hive Mind Through Cross-Functional Collaboration

4. Use tools that promote the integration of platforms, people, and ideas.

The opposite of silo culture is properly integrating processes across teams. This means your technology itself should counteract silos through deep integration of technical, project management, and visual collaboration platforms. 

With Whiteboards as a meeting and documentation hub, you can bring these processes together seamlessly. Whiteboards’ unparalleled two-way Jira integration lets you create new Jira issues on any whiteboard and manage existing issues there just as you would in Jira. Use Github instead of or in addition to Jira? You can also pull GitHub issues onto the whiteboard, update them, and create new issues with a couple of clicks.

Demolish work silos with tools and strategies that bring together people, information, and technology. Try Whiteboards for free to explore how powerful templates and deep cross-platform integration can drive collaboration and success.