Engineering doesn’t see eye to eye with Marketing. Servicing butts heads with Sales. Divisions fight over budget dollars and headcount. No matter the context, silos within an organization get in the way of speed, superior customer service, and growth. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The traditional friction points within your company can be smoothed out and more productive alliances can be created.

No leader says, “Let’s create silos and avoid working effectively with other groups” or “Hey everyone, keep your head down, stay in your lane, and pretend (fill in the blank) division doesn’t exist.” Most leaders express frustration with the drawn lines and roadblocks created when groups cannot work together cohesively. And yet, silos persist.

What’s the key? Building trust.

If you’re leading a team that has hunkered down and gone insular rather than creating bridges to work effectively with other groups, here are a few things you can do to bust the silos and build a more trusting and collaborative environment.

  1. Emphasize transparency – the more your employees know, the more they can understand how to be most effective in their roles. Be more open about challenges, pitfalls, plans, and group-specific data to avoid the assumptions, rumors, and misperceptions that often create organizational silos.
  2. Play nice – Teams take their cues from the team leader. If you are battling with a peer or perpetuating a poor work relationship with a colleague, that will reverberate throughout the organization and pit your team against the other. No matter how well you think you may be hiding the fact that you don’t get along with a peer, you’re not. The message you are sending is that your team does not need to or should not work well with their peers in that group either. Clean up ineffective work relationships right away in order to get everyone working better together.
  3. Foster understanding – another contributor to silos is a lack of understanding about what other groups do. It’s easy to point the finger at another team or division and blame them for problems that arise, but that usually stems from no information, misinformation, or misunderstanding about the work of other groups. Hold cross-functional meetings, invite other groups to share information about their work at your team meetings, and establish opportunities to “walk in others’ shoes” for a day to increase better understanding and awareness.
  4. Manage conflict – inevitably conflicts and disputes will arise between teams. Having clear and consistent avenues for resolving these situations is essential. Unresolved conflict leads to the kind of us-vs.-them mentality that builds silos.
  5. Ensure continuous learning and improvement – along with having avenues for managing conflict, it is important to create processes for continually improving how departments work together. Hold debrief or post-mortems after cross-functional projects are completed to capture best practices, lessons learned, and changes needed. The more that learning, growth, and greater collaboration are emphasized and measured, the more they will become a part of day-to-day culture.

As a leader, you wear many hats. To be a silo buster, you need to build trust, foster collaboration, and be a role model for effective and productive working relationships.

How have you broken down silos in your organization?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

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