10 Telltale Signs of Silos

By Diane Katz  |  Posted 10-22-2010

Uncooperative Teams: 10 Telltale Signs

Does your enterprise have a division or a team that stands walled off from what is happening inside other divisions or teams? Our current economic situation seems to be driving the increasing formation of work silos, resulting in a lack of communication and cooperation between two entities in the same business at a time when such collaboration is needed more than ever.

Resources are certainly less abundant than they had been. And resources can mean people, materials or budgets--anything that is needed to get the job done. One manager does not have enough resources to handle the workload, but another manager chooses not to share his or her resources. Yet, they are both working toward the same overall goals.

It could be that one manager needs an additional person in his or her group. The manager on the other team sends over the lowest-performing employee. When the receiving manager sees that this newest member is a poor performer, he or she loses trust in the other manager.

Another cause of silos is when one leader instructs a team--directly or indirectly--to mistrust another group. The danger here is that such mistrust can grow so intense that two divisions end up being more competitive with each other than they are with external competition. Internal competition can be motivating, but not at the cost of organizational goals.

10 Telltale Signs of Silos

Silos are deadly to the overall results of an organization when they adversely affect the consistent flow of information. Perhaps one manager does not get the information that is needed to get the job done. Or, worst case, misinformation is transmitted from team to team. It is easy to see how this can undermine a business.

All departments and clients want their systems to be state of the art, and they want it now. As the CIO, you and your IT staff are pulled and pushed to deliver. At times, one division puts pressure on you or your staff to work harder for them and less hard for another division. That puts undue stress on your employees and on you.

Silos grow in their destructiveness when senior management either is not aware of how rampant they are, or chooses to look the other way, hoping the problem will go away on its own. Perhaps most damaging is the manager who encourages silos in the belief that they will spur staff productivity or benefit the organization in some way. Sorry to say, none of these tactics work.

The first step toward dismantling your silos is spotting them. Here are the 10 telltale signs that let you know that your organization is running amok with work silos:

  1. Your managers never come to you with a collaborative solution to a problem.
  2. One manager badmouths another consistently.
  3. People are complaining that they don't have the information they need to get the job done.
  4. When errors occur, everyone blames everyone else for the mistakes, rather than taking responsibility for their actions.
  5. You hear complaints that your organization has unfair pay practices: Workers say the wrong people get the goodies.
  6. There is minimal or no exchange of talent between teams. Everyone hoards people instead of developing them and working to achieve the best results on projects.
  7. Your managers complain that when asking for resources, they either get no help at all or receive resources from the bottom of the heap.
  8. When you tell your managers that service levels coming from your organization are inconsistent, you get finger-pointing and a lack of accountability.
  9. A manager who is a team player appears unhappy, complains of a lack of teamwork or doesn't stay.
  10. Your internal customers seem to be lining up behind one of your managers or another--as if they were rooting for opposing teams.

Diane L. Katz, Ph.D., is president of Tucson, Ariz.-based consulting company The Working Circle.