Breaking down silos: How teamwork enables knowledge sharing

How to go about breaking down silos, why they form in the first place and the challenges associated with operating that way.

Breaking down silos- How teamwork enables knowledge sharing, featured image, Clarasys

Breaking down silos: How teamwork enables knowledge sharing

How to go about breaking down silos, why they form in the first place and the challenges associated with operating that way.

Breaking down silos- How teamwork enables knowledge sharing, featured image, Clarasys

Meet the author

Victoria Pedley

Senior Consultant

When teams, departments or business functions are not communicating or cooperating well this is often because they are working in silos. This occurs when information, processes and decisions get stuck within individual units which often creates significant blockers, potential duplication of effort and prevents knowledge sharing.

So, why do silos form in the first place?

There’s no one single reason why silos form, but common causes range from smaller issues such as interpersonal friction, all the way to poorly thought-out organisational structures.

For example, I’ve seen silos form simply because two people do not get along. This may sound minor but it can cause real issues if, for example, a product owner and delivery team do not have a good working relationship. Successful product delivery is dependent on engaged product owners to set the vision and direction of the product and provide quality assurance for new user stories and features. It is also key to have a focused delivery team that feels empowered to escalate risks early and seek input where needed from the product owner. As a result of this friction, the product owner may be difficult to track down or slow to make decisions and the delivery team may be unable to make progress because decisions are not being made promptly.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also seen situations where hierarchy and rigid organisational structures create silos. For example, in hierarchical organisations where individuals can have very deferential relationships, you will often find that specific individuals hold a lot of decision-making power resulting in bottlenecks. Additionally, a lack of psychological safety can prevent teams from sharing risks, issues and lessons learned with others which can result in the same errors occurring more than once and a duplication of effort. Similarly, in organisations where teams, departments or functions are made to compete with one another, you may find that knowledge is guarded within these silos. As a result, these organisations may also risk duplicating efforts and repeating the same mistakes due to a lack of sufficient knowledge sharing.

How do you actually go about breaking these silos down?

    • Open a dialogue: It may be as simple as taking the time to speak to the individuals involved in order to understand their frustrations and motivations. Be careful to avoid creating drama triangles as ultimately it’s up to the individuals involved to resolve their personal issues, but a mediator can be a healthy tool to ensure these conversations stay on track. 
    • Establish regular retrospectives: Creating a regular space to talk through what’s working well and things that could be improved is a valuable tool across the board and not solely for resolving issues and breaking down silos. Encourage this to be a safe space to share frustrations and concerns while also celebrating the good work that is being done. 
    • Review current ways of working: Bring your team together to review current ways of working and identify where the current blockers and silos are. Use this to co-create the best route forward for the team, product or project which is being impacted by these silos. You probably won’t get this exactly right the first time around and it won’t be a quick fix, so make sure you are setting this change up for success by following up on how things are going once the dust has settled. 
    • Implement agile ways of working: Depending on the work you are delivering, it may be worth incorporating agile ways of working. By focusing on creating cross-functional teams, roles and responsibilities become much clearer and delivery is streamlined. 
    • Adopt a team of teams model: If agile ways of working aren’t cutting it, you could also consider using a more progressive approach, such as a team of teams model, to give individuals more autonomy and flexibility. 

Ultimately, silos are an easy trap to fall into but they can cause a concentration of knowledge, lack of collaboration and create significant blockers. Breaking down silos may seem like a lot of effort in the short term but it is invaluable in the long term to enable effective knowledge sharing and a more progressive way of working. 

If you want to talk more about how to break down silos in your organisation, please get in touch

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