The APQC Blog

4 Symptoms You have Organizational Silos

Organizational silos are a pervasive challenge for most organizations and 73% of organizations feel that breaking down silos is vital to their success.

The need to address silos makes sense given that many factors of our professional lives set us up to work best in silos; going as far back as our early training for a specialized discipline. However, the most common sources of silos are unaligned or conflicting measures and a lack of cross-functional communications.

Often the greatest culprit is an underlying, functional-thinking foundation.

Functional thinking organizations are hierarchical in practice and manage people who are performing vertical process activities. Functional thinking provides specialized competency, it’s easy to recognize and connect with others who share the same function, and performance measurement is relatively easy.

However, functional thinking leads to break downs in communications and reduces our ability to achieve organizational goals.

What are the symptoms you may have organizational silos?

Though functional thinking is prevalent in many organizations, that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to work.

Here are a few symptoms to look out for:

  1. Conflicting goals. Organization focuses on the efficiency of individual components not on the outcome or end-goal. Hence teams do not have measures that align or are at odds with the value of the process.

  2. Too many or redundant projects. Due to a lack of transparency between functions an organization suffers from multiple or redundant projects all focused on solving the same problem. This ultimately results in wasted resources and inefficient improvement efforts.

  3. Too many or redundant systems. Due to a lack of coordination, different functions and business lines purchase redundant technologies or implement technologies without understanding how they will connect to or work with other solutions within the organization.

  4. Blame game. Rather than looking for solutions teams will blame mistakes or inefficiencies on the upstream team in the process.

But what harm do silos cause?

In many organizations, employees are driven to meet individual, team, or functional objectives without understanding how this supports organizational objectives and what similar or related initiatives are running in parallel around the company. This approach ultimately results in overlooked efficiencies and ineffective projects.  More specifically, silos cause:

  1. Ineffective improvements. Organizations may make changes to optimize a function which could inadvertently harm another function. However, by optimizing the business processes across the functions or the value chain, organizations get a holistic view of the effects.

  2. Failed digital transformation efforts. At its core, digital work tends to span multiple functions and requires organizations understand and optimize their business processes. Without this understanding, organizations struggle with how the pieces fit together or what is the best fit technology for the organization’s needs.  

  3. Inability to support strategic goals. Typically speaking, the organization’s strategic priorities are not functional in nature. They are large-scale issues such as improving organizational agility, becoming customer-centric, or entering a new market. All of which rely on understanding how the organization creates value across the silos and aligning the purpose of its processes to match.

  4. Poor customer experience. Silos reinforce an inside-out perspective. Because teams and individuals are focused on their discreet work tasks they don’t always have insights into what customers value and, just as importantly, what their role is in value creation.  Which ultimately impacts the customer experience.  

Additionally, organizations work to break down their silos to reap benefits such as:

  • a holistic perspective for change management support,
  • economies of scale for projects, and
  • the flexibility to respond to changes faster.

What can we do about it?

There are several ways organizations approach breaking down silos. One effective method is moving from a function-based to process-thinking culture. This means breaking out of functional silos to thinking about the entire value chain of the work the organization is trying to accomplish. Process thinking looks at the entire value chain and includes thinking about the end goal or purpose of the end-to-end process, hand offs between functions, and the overall wellbeing of the end-to-end process.

Additionally our research on Integrating Functions for Operational Excellence (Collection) , uncovered that organizations can break down silos through the use of:

  • End-to-end process foundation to outline how work gets accomplished.
  • Use of strategic objectives to identify and prioritize projects.
  • Standardized project portfolio to manage strategic initiatives and improvement projects.
  • Knowledge management efforts to capture, curate, and disseminate information across the silos.

Want to Learn More?

Learn more, along with 250 process practitioners and business professionals, at APQC's Process & Performance Management Conference.

This year’s Process and Performance Management Conference theme is “Driving Value End-to-End”. Ultimately tying people, technology, and process together into a cohesive whole: Human meets digital, enabled by process.  Register today!


For more process and performance management research and insights, follow me on twitter at @hlykehogland or connect with me on LinkedIn.