What is silo mentality?
Silo mentality is not a new term. This is when different departments – accounting, marketing, etc. – see themselves as separate entities or ‘silos’ as opposed to parts of a larger whole. It can lead to behaviours such as only sharing the bare minimum of information or seeing other departments as competition. Overall, it results in a disjointed team (if it can be called that) whose members have no loyalty to those outside their department. It is also far from a lean or efficient mentality, since getting information and completing projects involving multiple departments is made very difficult. It can result in overlap, too, with the same tasks being completed multiple times, and information disconnects, with people acting on incomplete or inaccurate information.
Long-term, the silo mentality can create a damaging pattern of distrust and misunderstanding between departments (and individuals!). Additionally, this mentality will almost certainly filter down to activities that involve customer interaction. It can result in miscommunication or mistakes involving the customer. In other words, your team’s communication will be disjointed and inefficient at best, and your client base will be able to tell.
How can office design help?
The way your office is designed plays a major role in preventing silo mentality. Incorporate these strategies into your office design to foster an open culture and clear, positive communication.
- Comfortable communal spaces can encourage interaction between all different areas. Having areas where people from all over the company can mingle is important. Not just the lunch room or kitchen, but collaborative areas intended for communication and conversation.
- An office design that supports activity based working will mean that employees are more likely to end up working alongside someone they wouldn’t normally interact with. Rather than being seated with the same people every day, they can choose a spot just about anywhere in the workplace. This can lead to spontaneous interactions that wouldn’t happen with dedicated desks.
- Communal information sharing boards help keep everyone on the same page. At Streamline, for example, we have an Idea Board that every employee contributes to. This includes ideas for everything from processes and strategies to implement, to incentives that we plan to start. It means each employee can have an influence on different parts of the business, including everyday operations, culture, etc. And when we discuss ideas that have appeared on the board, everyone else gets a chance to contribute to the idea and offer their opinion.
How else can I build a collaborative culture?
Great office design goes hand-in-hand with a positive culture, but it can’t prevent silo mentality on its own. Use these strategies to build an open and supportive culture and a strong team.
- Have an onboarding process that includes the new hire meeting people from different departments. This will help familiarize the new employee with other departments besides their own.
- Uphold a culture of collaboration. If you’re a manager, don’t place too much emphasis on competition or make disparaging comments about other departments (e.g. “What can you expect from those idiots in marketing? They’re the reason we didn’t hit our sales target last month.”) Instead, respect that each department has its own worth in working toward your company’s goals.
- Have company-wide goals and rewards. There is no need to do away with department goals, but having common, customer-centric goals helps to unify the company. And when those goals are achieved? Celebrate as a whole team and acknowledge each department’s contribution.
The worst mistake you can make with your office design is thinking it is not relevant to your company’s goals. An office design that supports open communication can be a big part of your strategy to prevent silo mentality between departments.
Having a strategy like this is part of developing a strong culture. It is especially important for rapidly-growing companies that are starting to develop larger and more distinct departments for the first time. It can be too easy let departments turn into separate ‘silos’ that only communicate with other departments when they must. Taking a proactive approach can prevent this from ever happening.