, ,

Break Down Silos at Work With Your Interpersonal Skills

Silos keep people from working together, which, ultimately, keeps things from really working. A siloed workplace is the enemy of collaboration. Silos at work are the result of people feeling they need to protect their or their team’s interests more than they need the support of their colleagues.

You can’t always wait for management to solve your silo problems (especially when they’re sometimes very much responsible for the silos). Your office’s IT department might know of some collaboration tools, but new software can take a long time to implement. And, while GSA has promised workplace solutions they say will increase collaboration, it’s really more about infrastructure modernization than a deep cultural fix.

Without tearing down walls and relying on management to take action, how can you help overcome the silo mentality in your workplace?

Open your door, figuratively or literally

To start to break down silos, you first need to be more available to your colleagues. Being available lets people know they’re welcome to connect with you, perhaps even spontaneously.

Make your workspace more welcoming. To overcome people’s inhibitions and entice people to visit you, put out a tempting bowl of candy or fun toys perfect for fidgeting. If you have space, add a second chair where people can sit when they want to join you in conversation.

If you’re lucky enough to have a door, keep it open for as much of the day as possible. Let people know that when your door’s open, they’re welcome to pop in with a quick hello or stay longer if they have something to discuss.

Don’t get stuck at your desk

Shared physical spaces can foster a more collaborative and less siloed atmosphere between coworkers. If your office has shared space, make an effort to work there on a regular basis. When you’re working in the shared space, be open to interruption.

While it might make you feel like a productive powerhouse, eating lunch at your desk is a signal to your colleagues that you are too busy to spare any time for them. Eating at your desk can make you unapproachable. But, breaking down interpersonal silos is an important part of your job, too.

Instead, make an effort to join your coworkers in your office’s break room or lunch area. You might even schedule a shared lunch time where people from different teams are encouraged to gather together and catch up. These informal meals can even turn into surprisingly productive collaborative conversations.

Be a networker

Proactively reach out to people outside your team to get to know them better. Invite a colleague (or two) you don’t get to work with out to coffee, lunch, drinks, or a walk. If possible, take the conversation outside the office so it feels more friendly and casual.

When you meet, don’t spend the whole time talking about yourself. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about your colleague. What are they working on? What parts of the job do they love? What kind of work do they wish they had a chance to do more often? What goals and ambitions do they have in their job—and which ones do you both share? Keep the tone positive and don’t let the conversation drift into complaints.

See if you can connect on a more personal level. You don’t need to be creepy about it. Ask them how they learned a skill you admire. Talk about any professional development training they recommend and classes they’ve enjoyed. Find out if they volunteer and the story about how they got involved.

Repeat this friendly invitation with other coworkers. If you can, try to meet with a new person each week.

Ask for feedback

When someone isn’t on your team, their input can be valuable because it can provide a more impartial view of the situation. Of course, if it’s a sensitive subject, first get your boss’ okay to talk about a particular project or initiative with someone outside your team.

If there’s a colleague you admire who you don’t get to to work with, ask if you can get their feedback to help you make a better decision. Be open to hearing their ideas through. Even if they’re off the mark, they can help you shake up your way of thinking. Thank them for their time and, later, let them how the situation worked out and how their advice helped.

Respect boundaries

Not everyone you work with will be interested in your efforts to overcome the silos in your office. If people are unwilling, don’t push. Do let them know that, if they change their minds, your door is always open.

Can one of these tips help you break down silos at your workplace? Let me know in a comment which one you’ll try.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and trainer. Find her on Twitter at @girardinl.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply


Thanks for writing this very interesting and timely article, Ms. Girardin!
I really appreciate this topic. I wish there was a training or educational course called, “Collaboration 101”. Sometimes the art and science of collaboration is not intuitive to some. It may need to be taught and encouraged.

Lauren Girardin

Glad to hear it’s a helpful blog post, Jackie — and you can call me Lauren 🙂

There’s some things about breaking down silos that people forget. We often rely on managers or the workplace to manufacture solutions, when sometimes progress is possible through simple personal action.