Get off my laaaand! How silo culture appears and what to do about it.

14th March 2017

“I am not going to ask marketing because they’ll take weeks and I have to ship this product TODAY!”


“HR just gets in the way, let’s do it my way…”


“Dave is rubbish, why has he been here so long, I could do it better with half the team”


The above is representative of a surprisingly common challenge facing our clients; the dark shadow of a SILO mentality. It seems that once a company reaches critical mass in almost any industry, divisions start to appear. SILO mentality is widely known to be bad for business so why do we let it happen in the first place?


To go back to basics, SILO mentality is defined as:


‘A mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture’.


SILOs can appear in the absence of clear company direction, company culture and poor communication channels and opportunities. Particularly as the company grows and if the company culture is not paid attention to. In times of change and restructure, SILO mentality can prevail, particularly amongst those resistant to the change. It is therefore wise to make a plan to bring everyone along with the leadership vision.


The culture of ‘us and them’ is known in psychology as ‘social identity theory’ where social identity is a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership. Social identity theory explains why, as humans, we naturally form ‘in groups’ and ‘out groups’. It is a defence and protection mechanism. It is this ‘us and them’ mentality than can be damaging to company culture, morale and essentially productivity.


But is it all bad? We would be led to believe so. Patrick Lencioni in his book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars has written; “Silos – and the turf wars they enable – devastate organizations. They waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals.”


However, there is also a school of thought that poses a lack of silos may actually hinder creativity and innovation.


Allowing for independent thought is incredibly important if creativity and innovation are key to your business. For these areas individuals should be encouraged to think outside of established methods, so it is worth considering the pitfalls of what is known as ‘groupthink’


Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints. Groupthink requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking.


And whilst a culture that discourages SILO mentality; collaboration, team working, meetings and open plan, may be suited to the extrovert, the introverts amongst us may work much better, be more productive and creative, under more ‘SILO like’ conditions.


Is it possible to create a culture of sharing and teamwork, with everyone working towards a shared vision and common goal, but also encourage a culture of enquiry, allowing people to ask questions and try new ways of doing things?


If you recognise SILO mentality in your business and want to prevent it becoming destructive, consider the following;


Does your leadership team lead by example and demonstrate the company’s values and vision? Are the company’s goals, and each individual’s role in achieving them clear to all? Are you effectively communicating to your employees and are they listening? Are you giving regular feedback to your employees, offering encouragement, rewarding efforts and making people feel valued? And most importantly, how are you measuring these?


If you are serious about changing a SILO culture, it is a good idea to appoint someone to be responsible for ensuring that teams work together and share processes and documents. Having someone accountable for the success of the initiative will make a difference and is not necessarily a full time or long term commitment.
Breaking down destructive SILOs requires significant effort and is easily overlooked as a business priority – partly because the basis of SILO is usually a moving target. So, ask yourself does SILO mentality exist in your company and if it does is it a force for bad or good? If bad do something about it, and if good reward and increase the impact to drive growth through creativity and innovation.


Sarah Byrom

Associate People Strategist