Skip to main content

Working in Silos: The Pitfalls of Isolation in Organizations

Explore the perils of working in silos within organizations and uncover how silo mentality tampers collaboration, communication, and overall productivity.

Cross-team collaboration can increase productivity, make employees feel less isolated, and improve the company's bottom line.

Unfortunately, as technology advances, many workers find themselves working in silos, being unable to effectively communicate with their peers and without support from the company's leadership. While all employees should have quiet time to themselves that allows them to focus on work, they should never be completely separated from the group.

Working in silos can be damaging to your employees, their work, and your business. Team leaders must prevent this isolation, regardless of whether their employees work from home or in the office.

Working in silos means team members are isolated from the team itself. It could mean individuals or entire departments are isolated from the rest of the business. These individuals and groups don't collaborate with others, which can eventually lead to a lack of communication.

Working in silos is the opposite of collaboration; silos prevent individuals from being part of a team with a unified vision, while different teams work amongst themselves, not knowing what's happening with other departments or initiatives in the business.

This lack of collaboration can quickly turn into zero communication, even between team members. If everyone is focusing only on their tasks and not collaborating with other team members or teams, they won't understand the company's broader goals, which can make them feel like they're falling through the cracks and their work doesn't matter.

Common causes of silos in organizations

The silo mentality doesn't happen overnight; it's a process of isolating employees and certain groups that a company's leadership should be aware of. Most commonly, it stems from a lack of communication that doesn't encourage teams to work together.

While remote working is more prone to silos because workers can't walk over to coworkers' desks at any point throughout the day, the silo mentality can take over any business. Here are a few of the main causes to be aware of:

Leadership conflicts

Leadership is often to blame for creating silos, especially in a remote setting. If your employees aren't encouraged to work together, they won't. Many want to come to work, focus on their tasks, and leave. Putting themselves in silos enables them to focus and get more done, but it can also harm team efforts and make employees feel isolated and even lonely.

Regardless of leadership styles, conflicting leadership often confuses employees. They're told different things and can't determine what they're supposed to do. This can ultimately lead to teams not understanding what different teams are working on and leadership making different decisions that affect the goals and ultimate daily work of their teams. Keep in mind that if leadership isn't collaborating, employees won't either.

Lack of company vision

A lack of vision is a major driving force for silos. Your company values should promote collaboration among employees. Without knowing the vision and goals, your employees don't know how their tasks relate to the same objective.

Sales and marketing may be two separate departments in your company. The marketing department may aim to develop brand awareness and leads, while the sales department wants to sell products.

How do these two teams support one another? Without collaboration, sales teams can't work with marketing teams to develop more effective strategies because management lacks a common vision.

No workflows

Having processes and workflows in place is crucial for workers. They need to know the next step in the process at all times to prevent bottlenecks that can prevent them from completing tasks. Without clear workflows, employees will be in a state of constant confusion.

Employees may choose to silo themselves and focus only on their work because no guidelines tell them what to do. If there's no one in charge and making decisions for the team, everyone will work independently.


New employees prefer when organizations have the latest technologies that enable communication. A lack of technology like task tracking and project management tools can often confuse employees. They may know what they're supposed to be doing, but they don't know how their work is part of the company's greater goals.

Let's say an employee is a writer in a marketing team, and they're writing a landing page for an advertising campaign. If they don't know what the designer is creating because they cannot view the work, the result can be disjointed, causing one or both to return to the drawing board.

Employees should have the right technology to communicate with one another and share their projects. Video conferencing, chats, and project tracking tools allow them to communicate without necessarily getting up from their desks or having to drive to the office.

The environment

There's been much debate about remote work in recent years. Whatever your feelings are on the topic, there's no denying that the work environment can play a major role in the silo mentality. Consider an office environment. If you have cubicles with high walls, how can your employees feel encouraged to communicate with one another throughout the day?

Cubicles, departments on different floors, closed-door offices, and so forth can lead to a silo mentality because employees don't feel welcome to collaborate with others.

Types of silos

Several types of silos can occur in the workplace. Once you understand the types of silos employees are working in, you can determine the underlying cause and find ways to promote cross-team collaboration. Let's take a look at the types of silos you may find in your organization:

Departmental silos

Departmental silos occur when there's isolation between departments or teams. Keeping the sales and marketing departments separate is an example of a departmental silo. When marketing and sales need to work together, they might experience difficulty because management styles and workflows differ.

Geographical silos

Geographical silos can occur when employees work in different states or even countries. If your employees work in-office, communication between different locations may be lacking. This is a common type of silo for companies that operate across state lines and international borders because of issues with time zones, language, and cultural barriers.

Hierarchical silos

Hierarchical silos are common in many different types of businesses and occur because of the hierarchical structure of a business. For instance, most businesses have owners, CEOs, managers, supervisors, and staff.

Unfortunately, this common structure can often lead to communication issues. CEOs and managers might not share information with supervisors or employees, isolating some workers from the business's ultimate goals.

Hierarchical silos can lead to general job dissatisfaction. Employees seen as lower on the totem pole often feel less important because important information never makes it to them.

Information silos

Information silos occur when a business works with other entities. For example, an e-commerce business may work with manufacturers, suppliers, logistics companies, and so forth. Ultimately, different stakeholders might not have access to the same information, which can cause bottlenecks in various processes due to a lack of communication.

Technology silos

Teams within the same organization often use different types of software to do their jobs. However, when teams have software that's incompatible with that of other teams, it can lead to major disruptions that create silos due to frustration and the inability to communicate properly.

Siloed working is bad for business. It leads to bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and overall isolation of teams and individual employees. So how can working in silos negatively affect your business?

Lack of communication and information sharing

Organizational silos stem from an overall lack of good communication and information sharing, but they can also exacerbate this problem.

Communication barriers between different teams and departments directly prevent collaboration. In the modern business world, your teams must work together toward a common goal. Not sharing knowledge across teams results in bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and an overall lack of understanding throughout the organization.

The lack of information sharing can increase the risk of errors and duplicated efforts, leading to two or more teams working on the same project instead of having a workflow.

When teams work together, they should understand their common goal. When people begin working in silos because of an overall lack of communication, they'll start focusing more on their day-to-day than the ultimate goal, which can make them lose vision.

Your employees must understand they're part of something bigger. If they don't believe their work contributes to the organization's goals, they'll begin working in solos and isolating themselves.

Inefficiency and redundancy

Silos create inefficiencies because employees and teams stop communicating and keep important information to themselves. This can lead to the duplication of tasks and overall wasted resources, difficulty in coordinating efforts and aligning goals, and a slower-decision making process. If you've ever attended a meeting and individuals weren't current on recent initiatives, you've experienced this inefficiency first-hand.

Limited innovation and creativity

Strategic leadership fosters creativity, considering all employee backgrounds, knowledge, and skills. Working in silos leads to an overall lack of creativity. Ultimately, your employees aren't motivated to share their unique and diverse perspectives, resulting in a reduced cross-pollination of knowledge and expertise that could help your business grow.

Your employees have different backgrounds and experiences. Collaboration makes it easier for them to use their expertise to benefit the business. When you start placing your employees in silos, you'll reduce the amount of creative ideas that come from brainstorming together.

Decreased employee engagement and morale

Working in silos results in lower employee morale and satisfaction. Think about how frustrating it must be for employees not to have up-to-date information about the projects they're working on. A lack of collaboration among leadership results in employee confusion and frustration because they don't know what they're supposed to be working on.

Silos also lead to a lack of opportunities for skill development and career growth because they never get the opportunity to showcase their expertise. Employees are often siloed or isolated from management and decision-makers who can directly impact their growth within an organization.

This lack of collaboration can also have a negative impact on teamwork and camaraderie. Your employees like working together, and team dynamics are essential to the overall structure and success of the organization. Socializing in the workplace is important to everyone, but so is knowledge and idea sharing that can completely transform their work.

At the end of the day, working in silos is bad for company culture and can lead to high turnover rates due to employee dissatisfaction.

Impaired customer experience

Working in silos doesn't only impact internal teams; it can affect the customer experience. When employees don't have up-to-date or accurate information, it can lead to poor customer experiences and disconnected customer touchpoints.

If your sales and customer support teams don't share information, customers may get delayed responses or receive zero communication because employees don't know how to respond or are waiting for someone from another department to help them.

Not being able to align teams results in lower customer satisfaction and loyalty, potentially losing valuable opportunities to sell your products and services.

Organizational silos hurt businesses, but they're preventable and can be overcome once you're aware of the type of silos within the company and how they affect your business.

The first step to overcoming organizational silos is knowing they exist. Many business leaders are so focused on their own tasks and working in their own silos they don't realize this type of isolation and bad communication is happening.

Once you open your eyes and look around your organization, you can use these strategies to overcome silos that impact so much of your business.

Leadership and cultural shifts

If you want to eliminate the silos within your organization, you'll need to focus on fostering a culture of collaboration and knowledge-sharing. While separating departments and teams based on job function might be easy, that's how you create silos.

Collaboration is crucial for any successful organization because it helps individuals understand each other's roles and find new ways to use others' skills and experience to benefit the business.

Establishing clear goals and objectives

All of your teams need clear goals and objectives, but those departmental or team goals should align with the overall business goals. There must be interdepartmental cooperation and collaboration, meaning all managers and leadership teams should know and understand the goals and how their teams fit within an overarching business strategy.

You should also set up measurable metrics to evaluate these collaborative efforts. If individuals from the marketing, sales, and customer service teams work together to create a better sales process, they should have clear goals for tracking the customer experience.

Improving communication channels and tools

As we've mentioned, a lack of communication is one of the biggest contributors to silos. Therefore, you should aim to improve communication in your organization by implementing effective communication platforms and technologies, including messaging, video, and project management software.

Better communication prevents duplication and promotes better workflows by allowing teams to work together instead of impeding one another's progress.

This is especially important for remote workers who can't walk over to coworkers to ask a question. With communication tools, they can send direct messages to coworkers and supervisors to get the information they need to be more effective at doing their jobs.

Cross-functional training and skill development

Cross-functional teams are those that consist of individuals from different departments with a common goal. Sales, marketing, and customer service teams might come together to create better marketing materials. These teams take workers out of their silos and make them part of something larger — a team working toward the same result.

Offering cross-training opportunities to employees can help them learn how different teams and departments function. You can also encourage job rotation to help each person in the organization learn about the essential roles of their peers.

Sometimes separating departments is necessary because it helps you manage each aspect of your business. However, when you do this, you're essentially creating silos, which can be difficult to break out of. At the same time, every department has a different function, but some of their broader goals align. Therefore, teams must work together at times.

Cross-functional training and skills development ensures these teams can come together with less friction because individuals within the organization understand the dynamics of both departments.

Foster a culture of collaboration

Collaboration in the workplace can drastically transform your business by encouraging employees to work together to meet larger objectives and goals. Eliminating silos also reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation that can contribute to high turnover rates and poor project management.

Once you've determined your employees are working in silos, you must find ways to eliminate them and encourage better communication and collaboration. Mailchimp's suite of marketing tools enables teams to work together more efficiently and track and measure their goals. Try Mailchimp today.

Share This Article