Breaking Down the Silos

Whether you call them silos, smokestacks, or stovepipes,the organizational impact is the same: inefficiency, dysfunction, hard feelings, and low morale. The product of years of turf protection and empire building, organizational walls are as hard to break down as the real thing. Most companies have them, but unfortunately, we learn to live with them, and rarely consider their true cost. Companies will never achieve real breakthrough performance while internal functions are treating each other like competitors.

Breaking or even just softening silos is the ultimate exercise in cultural change. Conditions are often so firmly entrenched that all of the usual big change approach is needed, as well as effort at every level, and a timeframe of at least 2-3 years. Because every company is different, the following suggestions are generic strategies that may be part of your overall effort to attack silos.

Deliberate Succession Planning

You already have a formal succession planning process; so be deliberate to use it as part of your silo reduction strategy. Ensure you have a corporate-wide process that is pure in mission, and agnostic to functional-areas.


Make sure you have a broad communication strategy in place that focuses on the key messages of the organization. Use company wide communication to inform and educate across functions where appropriate.


Your organization will never achieve its vision unless all areas are working together. Take deliberate steps to ensure that your vision is a catalyst to highlight similarities and the need for true collaboration.

Organizational Design

Look at your org design to determine what changes you can make to break down silos. Matrix structures require considerable effort and leadership to manage, but the output is usually better. Think about what's worth the effort in your organization.


Good leaders develop, reward, and protect their staff to build a strong, cohesive and effective team. Yet these very acts can further insulate a silo from the rest of the organization. Great leaders build a strong team with an eye on the broader organizational context and the good of the organization balanced against the good of the team.

Cross Functional Teams

Identifying the goals, issues and obstacles that are best addressed by a cross-functional team is one of the easiest ways to chip away at your silos. The goodness that comes from employees from different areas working together on specific issues quickly spreads to other parts of the internal relationships and contributes to silo elimination.

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