Getting Rid of (and Preventing) Information Silos in the Workplace

Tearing down information silos is an important step to ensure you remain competitive and agile in the long term.

by RC Victorino June 10, 2020

The silo mentality creeps into the culture of most companies eventually — particularly as they scale in size.

As a company grows, workers become assigned to teams to make the company more productive. These different teams begin to focus on different priorities, often requiring disparate systems and tools (like a CRM for your sales team, and an analytics tool for your business intelligence team).

Creating departments to focus on specialized tasks is a vital step in scaling an organization; however, this fragmentation can create barriers that block the flow of information across teams.

The more tools a team uses, the harder it becomes to make knowledge easily accessible. That’s how information silos form — when departments within an organization don’t share critical knowledge effectively.

Critical information may flow up and down within silos — but they don’t flow laterally.

What problems do information silos cause?

Your company is less efficient

Information silos create walls around teams, making it hard for employees to know what’s going on outside their bubble. At the most extreme, these silos could lead to multiple departments unknowingly working on the same initiative. More commonly, however, teams fail to connect with relevant stakeholders — or they connect with these stakeholders too late in the process. This can lead to critical mistakes, redundancies, and gridlock.

For example, your product team is building a feature that allows visitors to your website to test-drive a version of your SaaS product right from the homepage. In a siloed environment, other teams may not be aware of this initiative until it’s well underway. They might not hear about it until the monthly all-hands meeting.

But your customer service team may have valuable input on which types of features excite your free-trial users — and which ones cause the most confusion. Having access to this information early on can ensure your product team builds the most effective product from the start, rather than making significant changes late in the process.

Your sales team might have created something similar already as part of their sales deck. Knowing what they created and the feedback they got from prospects can help your product team refine their approach in the early stages.

Growth is slowed

The most successful teams make quick and informed decisions.

But in a siloed environment, teams might not have immediate access to critical data. As a result, these teams have to collect and process data from across the organization before they can make a data-driven decision.

This jeopardizes their opportunity to move first, making them vulnerable to competitors.

Knocking down silos empowers teams to make calculated decisions without delays.

Company culture suffers

An essential part of company culture is inclusiveness. Employees want to feel connected to important initiatives — they want to know how their work contributes to the company’s overarching goals. All-hands meetings help — however, shared knowledge shouldn’t be confined to a scheduled gathering of minds. It should be a part of your culture.

Employees who see their impact regularly become more engaged, motivated, and collaborative. By tearing down information silos and making knowledge and data more accessible, employees can see how their contribution fits within the company’s big-picture initiatives.

The customer/user experience is weakened

Finding the root cause of any issue is a critical part of addressing problems before they become widespread. But information silos can seriously hamper your team’s ability to identify the root cause.

Siloed information also increases the chances of customers receiving inconsistent responses to the same issue whenever they contact your team.

The disconnect between departments — and within teams — makes customer service incredibly challenging. It leaves users frustrated and untrusting of your company.

How to tear down information silos

Three strategies any company can employ to tear down and prevent information silos are:

  1. Consolidate your knowledge and data management systems.
  2. Make knowledge sharing a part of your company’s culture.
  3. Structure your company to foster knowledge sharing.

Consolidate your knowledge and data management systems

This is the first step your company should take. Find out what management systems your teams use as well as who uses them. Then evaluate whether these systems generate relevant data that’s accessible across your organization, or whether these systems create information silos.

Also, find out from your employees what they struggle with when attempting to access and share knowledge. Their input can help you provide a more representative solution.

Your goal here is to identify the systems you should merge or discard to improve efficiency. Ideally, you will move to one unified management system that allows each team the:

  • Flexibility to assign (and unassign) user permissions
  • Option to export and import data
  • Freedom to integrate with other tools (like Slack and GitHub)
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Make knowledge sharing a part of your company’s culture

Your work is not over once you’ve consolidated your management system. You still have to convince employees to make an effort to share their knowledge willingly.

That can be easier said than done.

Employees, by nature, may hoard critical knowledge:

  • Because it makes them feel irreplaceable
  • To avoid negative feedback from colleagues or supervisors
  • In the hopes of being recognized and rewarded for their individual achievements

Leaders can encourage knowledge sharing through several strategies, including motivation, modeling knowledge-sharing behavior, and creating clear guidelines. We dive deeper into these and other strategies in our article on how to overcome knowledge hoarding.

Structure your company to foster knowledge sharing

Making knowledge sharing a part of your company culture may not be enough. You may need to fundamentally change the way your company is structured.

Tip: Only consider this step once you’ve consolidated your management systems and made changes to your company culture — yet still see no progress.

Pull back and analyze how communication flows between the levels of your business. Does it make sense to merge any departments? Should you build knowledge sharing and documentation into your employees’ KPIs as Stripe does?

“We have in our job descriptions that writing and documentation are included,” says Dave Nunez, Documentation Manager at Stripe. “Come performance review time, that becomes part of your body of work.”

Conclusion

No company sets out to intentionally create information and data silos. But as companies scale, different departments and teams are created, and knowledge becomes less laterally accessible.

Tearing down — and preventing — information silos is an important step to ensure you remain competitive and agile in the long term.

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