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How to Kill A Silo


In sports, players excel in very specific positions with very specific skill sets. In buildings that surround us, each floor is likely a different company, different specialty, or at the very least, a different function. 

Silos help us make sense of the complexities of the world, breaking them down into manageable tasks that groups of like-minded people are meant to take on and overcome.  

When we think of silos this way, it makes sense to apply the same logic to the organizations we work in. For example, very different skills, tools, and processes are required for Legal and Compliance than Product or eCommerce. Teams require different equipping from their organization based on the ‘job’ they perform and use silos to organize the chaos. From this perspective, silos work — until they don’t.

When you apply silos to a generally autonomous system, it’ll work relatively effectively in keeping that system organized and on track. When you apply silo-mentality to modern organizations that require constant, agile, and transformative change, that system will begin to fall apart. 

Trust between silos erodes as a battle over shared resources, investments, and information ensues. Inefficiencies arise as groups use different processes, systems, and platforms that don’t match or align with other groups, leading to low (or no) visibility into other departmental workings, and a suspicion that this is by design. That “other” departments are black-boxing them, hoarding information or innovation to get ahead.

This is when silos cease to deliver net-positive results to organizations. While it’s tempting to blame the silos that were meant to help organize the company, the silo isn’t solely responsible. The fault lies in how leadership has (or hasn’t) managed and implemented these silos.

Establishing Horizontal Connections

If an executive or management team treats silos as a set-it-and-forget-it organizational system, it’s only a matter of time before the pitfalls of silo mentality begin to present themselves across teams. Vertical silos exist in organizations to give team members identity, accountability, and expertise, but it can’t stop there. Horizontal, connective tissue must be established and managed to help bridge those silos so the organization can act as a holistic entity set to achieve the same, or similar, business outcomes.

In our work with clients, we utilize a handful of methods to build horizontal connections across teams meant to counteract the negative effects silos have on companies. Utilizing a network map activity will allow your teams to understand which connections should be made, and which method might be best to leverage in those connections. Some of our favorites include:

Centers of Excellence (COEs) and/or Governing Bodies:

The establishment of COEs, Governing Bodies, or even Councils, can immediately shift the energy of the silo mentality that comes along with hard-line vertical boundaries. By nature, these teams operate as cross-functional units designed to foster collaboration and innovation. As part of their responsibilities, these groups ensure that team goals, resources, and information are shared and built upon. And that vertical functions are operating in a way to achieve their desired outcomes. They knock teams out of their structured, typical routines, and bring new perspectives and approaches to our normal day-to-day activities.

Recommended Read: Build an Insight Engine with an Insights Center of Excellence (iCOE)

Dotted-line or Matrixed Reporting Structures:

Not all reporting structures and organizational hierarchies are created equally. Especially in complex organizations, there’s a need to force people out of the natural verticals and give them exposure and/or accountability in other areas of the business. For example, let’s say you’re a team member in Functional Area A. Instead of reporting directly to the Manager of Functional Area A, you may be reporting to Functional Area Z. This works particularly well when teams are dependent on each other to reach their goals, Product, and Sales, for instance, or eCommerce and Operations.

Goal & Vision Alignment

Each of the approaches above is meant to better align teams in both day-to-day activities and the objectives they intend to reach as a cross-functional unit. This won’t be effective unless those teams align their overarching goals and vision. In traditional, vertical silos, each group sets their own targets and largely works independently to achieve them. This ignores the realities of business and motivates Area A to succeed despite the setbacks they might cause for Area Z. When teams can align their intended business outcomes, strategic priorities, and measures of progress, everyone participating feels a sense of ownership in achieving mutually beneficial success. 

The Power of Cross-Silo Networks 

These approaches are only the start to mitigating the insular mindsets associated with the silo mentality that’s ingrained in many organizations. Like any significant enterprise change, achieving lasting results requires more than just temporary connections. It demands leadership buy-in, top-down reinforcement, and cultural incentives. This ensures that horizontal connections transcend temporary bridges and become lasting networks that drive sustainable organizational transformation.

Vertical structures serve a purpose: they concentrate expertise, provide a sense of identity, and set clear accountability. So perhaps the true call to action isn’t to kill the silo but to spark transformation by bridging and evolving them. It’s about creating permanent pathways where information, resources, problem-solving power, and customer insights flow freely between groups. This level of synergy will undoubtedly lead to unparalleled business success.