How to Prevent High-Performing Team from Becoming Toxic Silo

“Their silo didn’t work like our silo; instead of looking at the possibilities, they looked at the problems.” – Hessie Jones describing what happened when her team collided with another.

In “A Revealing Look at the Impact of Silos“, Ms. Jones shows how a team that begins as a highly motivated creative unit can quickly become an impenetrable tower, i.e. a silo.

No matter how productive, a self-contained unit can’t effectively collaborate with others.

As a result, the organization the team was set up to support can end up the big loser.

Writing for Entrepreneur, Pratik Dholakiya sums up the pitfall:

“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.”

If you’re in danger of this fate, IT’S NOT TOO LATE.


Here are 3 TIPS + 8 DOs & DON’Ts to keep your team high performing while preventing it from becoming an unproductive silo:

1. Work from the Same Page –

­A big challenge for any team working within a larger organization is to align team or project goals with company goals. However, overarching goals and priorities are key for effective collaboration (when not shared, collaboration won’t flow).*

DO: Define your team or project’s “big picture” goals from the beginning and re-visit them frequently.

DON’T: Leave the big picture unclear or unspoken.

*Overarching goals aren’t always clear on first sight. Therefore, it’s your job as team lead to connect AND balance the dots – your creative thinking skills are critical here!


2. Get Strategic about Collaboration –

For sustainable positive results, informal collaboration isn’t sufficient; it needs to be formalized.*

DO: Structure effective communication and collaboration methods into your workflow, i.e. working systems and processes.

DON’T: Duplicate work that’s already been done by others (nothing is more demotivating than learning you’ve poured time and energy into redundant steps).

*A good starting point is to assign specific tasks to specific people with specific due dates: who, what, by when?


3. Put Evaluation above Harmony –

Nobody likes to rock the boat. However, accurate analysis and critical evaluation is necessary to avoid one of silo’s best friends: ‘Groupthink’.

DO: Celebrate differences.*

DO: Model and encourage disagreement (honest feedback is essential for peak team performance).

DO: Involve your team in hard-decision making processes when possible.

DON’T: Pretend to have all the answers.

*Multi-discipline projects and cross-functional teams are great ways to foster this.



By definition, silos are not a bad thing – strong, insulated, protecting.

However, they have the potential to block communication, suppress innovation and worse.

Use these 3 tips to prevent and/or reverse your high-performing team from becoming a toxic silo.

Above all, don’t assume you know best – seek outside feedback and keep asking yourself questions.

Here are 3 you can use immediately:

  • Why? (e.g. What makes our idea better than theirs?)
  • Why not? (e.g. Why shouldn’t we be open to their idea?)
  • What if? (e.g. What would happen if we went with their idea instead of ours?)

With these 3 SMALL questions, you’ll be 1 BIG step closer to avoiding this fate.


I’m probably leaving out some information. What other tips can you provide about this issue?


  • Marco Hoenig

    Reply Reply December 1, 2015

    In a world where large global organizations try to collaborate virtually across many cultures, product lines, company departments and affiliations – silos (or the threats they could pose) are indeed one of the big corporate issues: Tim’s observations are spot on and his suggestion are indeed a very good discussion starter. I also recently came across an interesting read I wanted to share “The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers. By Gillian Tett. Simon & Schuster”. In it the author states that often a way to break down larger organizational silos could be a new venture (like Facebook) or a change in leadership who addresses and facilitates the discussion around obvious silos.

  • timnash

    Reply Reply December 1, 2015

    Thx for your comment, Marco.The discussion part you mention is key! Will check out the other article for sure. BR, Tim

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