4 Warning Signs Your Team Is Working in Silos, and How to Destroy Them Don't ignore these red flags that will stunt your business and knock great teams to the ground.

By Matthew Toren

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


They come out of nowhere. Silos have long been listed as the bogeymen of both large and small organizations. They kill productivity, halt innovation and destroy morale. When it comes to the long-term impacts of silos, Pratik Dholakiya captures their destructive power perfectly:

"Much as we believe that we are most productive in our little silos, the fundamental fact remains that humans are social animals. By denying the opportunity to collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas, businesses contribute to their own speedy demise."

Ironically, silos aren't always easy to spot, but developing your workflow with these four warning signs -- and integrating a few key tools -- can eliminate them before they appear.

1. Redundant steps

The most painful and silo-revealing phrase you'll ever hear is, "My team did that too. I thought it was our responsibility." Redundant steps and duplicated work are costly, and not just from a bottom-line perspective. They also undercut unity and leave valuable teams frustrated and in opposition.

Related: Gen. Stanley McChrystal: How to Scale the Power of Small Teams

While whiteboards are wonderful, effective teams -- especially those that depend on remote workers -- must turn to technology for support and accountability. Management software abounds, is easy to set up and provide enormous work-saving assistance. But not all are created equal. Whatever app you use, be sure it allows you to get detailed when it comes to managing, scheduling and recording.

WorkflowMax's job management feature, for instance, prioritizes transparency by creating digital hand-offs when one team or individual completes a task and another must begin. It also integrates directly with third-party platforms such as Salesforce, Xero and Dropbox. This kind of integration is another key "must" when it comes to getting hand-offs right.

To free yourself from duplicating work, always assign specific tasks to specific people and include specific due dates. A great formula to follow is: "Who … will do what … by when … and how will we check in about the next step?" Dropping any of those elements is a recipe for a silo.

2. Misaligned priorities

Shared priorities are a challenge for teams and individuals alike. Whether it's a lack of clear inter-departmental goals or even intra-departmental competition, not working from the same page on the same priorities divides people at all levels. Defining each project's "big picture" outcomes and revisiting those goals as frequently as possible are the only cures for misaligned priorities. As simple as this sounds, it's shocking how often the "big picture" is left murky, unclear, or even worse, unspoken.

If you're a leader, don't be fooled into thinking all your goals have to come from the top down. Instead, include your teams in the priority-setting process itself. Confluence is one of the few tools that not only allows you to assign and manage your workflow, but collaborate on the goals behind it. Collaboration is indispensable.

In addition to rallying teams around the same objectives, having overarching goals enables you and your leaders to outline the specific, small-scale tasks necessary to achieve those goals.

3. Limited collaboration

Much has been written about how essential collaboration is for success, both personally and professionally. Unfortunately, very few organizations formalize collaboration to make sure it actually happens. The truth is informal collaboration simply is not sufficient to keep businesses healthy and competitive. Instead, leading organizations actively foster collaboration by structuring it into their workflow. Through multi-discipline projects, teams learn exactly how their colleagues contribute to the success of the business as a whole.

Related: How to Keep a Leadership Team in Sync

One study revealed that employee productivity and satisfaction increases by 15 percent and 13 percent respectively when collaboration is formalized as a cornerstone. Also get strategic about the way you communicate within and between teams.

Remember: less is more. "I wish my company sent me more emails," said nobody ever. Instead of spreading your files and content out over a host of separate providers, focus on simplifying your "app ecosystem" and prioritizing meta tools that integrate with the cloud-storage service your company already uses.

For instance, with memit you can create group-driven collections to clip, tag, annotate and share both on and offline content. What's more, memit integrates directly with cloud providers such as Dropbox and OneDrive to automatically save that stored content in the very place your team members go to for everything else.

4. Dangerous groupthink

Psychology Today says groupthink occurs "when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus."

In other words, groupthink is intellectual inbreeding. It creates enormous blind spots and, even worse, a revolution to outside input. Innovation gets suppressed and a zero-analysis "we-must-be-right" environment is born.

The prevalence of groupthink can also lead to an environment where disagreement is looked down on as a negative instead of a positive. As Margaret Heffernan puts it in her TED Talk, disagreement isn't just necessary to problem-solving -- it's actually "a kind of love."

The best way to avoid groupthink is to model disagreement at the leadership level. This doesn't mean hosting debates or shouting matches, but it does mean letting your teams into the room when hard decisions need to be hashed out. It also means rewarding disagreement, celebrating differences and making it clear that you, as a leader, don't have all the answers.

No matter the cause, workplace silos have the ability to destroy teamwork, communication and success. Use these tips to break down silos before they can unravel the tight-knit team you strive to lead.

Related: The 3 Steps to Building a Culture of Transparency

Matthew Toren

Serial Entrepreneur, Mentor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com

Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.

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