Three ways to break down silos in organisations


By Neer Rama, Force Solutions Product Manager at thryve

Silos once made a lot of sense. In the early 20th century, companies and states grew much larger and complex. Managing these behemoths was not easy and led to the creation of various layers that could toe the line, keep activities aligned with strategy and, ultimately, improve the bottom line.

Today’s modern businesses are again evolving. They have kept some of the management lessons learned by their predecessors a century ago. But new technologies and work methodologies have considerably changed how an organisation can function. Flatter structures, broader collaboration, and a focus on proactive strategy have exposed the limits of older ways, including silos.

Silos are still necessary. The rules governing division of labour do not disappear. But they are no longer the foundation of modern environments. Overcoming this has been the biggest challenge for many organisations trying to modernise their business models. Silos are not going without a fight, so what can leaders do to encourage more open, collaborative and enlightened ways of transacting?

  1. Data is not a silo

Data must flow freely. It doesn’t mean data should be left to do what it wants. But the richness of data comes from finding patterns and contexts between different areas of an organisation.

Hence it is fundamental that managers and other leaders celebrate the smooth movement of data within the company. Silos that hold onto their data as bartering chips with other divisions are not accomplishing anything. Their protectionism only damages the potential of that data.

Managers have their own priorities, which lead to silo-esque actions. When a silo protects its data, the intentions are usually good. But the results rarely reflect that. So it’s up to managers to realise that the free flow of data will benefit the organisation. They must include this thinking in their plans and their teams. If they share a unified vision, informed by long-term strategy and goals, they can break down data silos.

  1. Collaboration is important

It’s fine to say managers should follow and prescribe to long-term strategy. But that has been a challenge for about as long as there have been large organisations. Even though everyone is on the same page, different priorities and leadership styles lead down different paths. It’s also crucial to remember that silos are often pitted against each other in terms of budget or performance. Good managers protect their people and departments, so we can’t just expect them all to link hands and get along.

Different silos need a common language, in this case, shared goals. Such goals derive from the company’s overall strategy, communicated by executives and reflected through managers. But that’s the theory. In reality, executive communication is often fragmented and infrequent, offered in broad strokes with little shift in the context. For a living ecosystem such as a company, this is a severe drawback.

Collaboration tools can change that. For example, a company CRM already contains and reflects crucial data such as sales performance. Such metrics are the business’ canaries and should influence other departments’ strategies. A modern platform such as Salesforce can offer the right information to all parties, who can then communicate thoughts and changes. A little bit of collaboration, using data that is already available, can create synergies that override silos.

  1. Celebrate cooperation

Silos make us feel safe, which explains our reluctance to remove them. This sense of safety harkens to the earlier point about departmental competition. An organisation is not a trust fund that gives freely. It expects results for the resources it provides, and competitive departments ensure healthier uses for those resources.

That picture has changed with the advent of modern platforms such as Salesforce. The physical boundaries between silos don’t exist in the platform world. Here, the entire business can use one application, yet each instance is configured to serve the specific needs of individual users and their silos. Blurring the boundaries in a business is one of the most potent contributions stemming from modern technology.

Such technology primes an organisation for cooperation. For example, multidisciplinary project teams are becoming familiar sights as companies mix and match the right resources for the best results. Areas such as sales, marketing, HR and operations no longer do their own thing – they work best when their activities are integrated. By promoting data’s free movement between silos and encouraging collaboration around important company indicators, a cooperation culture can be established. This is much more effective than the uneven siloed projects of the past.