Breaking Down Silos

Written by Vladimir Tosic

Corporate and Startup Leader. Culture builder. Marketer and product designer.

December 02, 2023

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Can Employee Recognition Programs Help?

.We have all suffered from this disease, but it doesn’t build up immunity over time. You can and will most probably get it again… If you as a leader put 5 people to work on projects that have even a tiny overlap and you fail to organize a way for them to keep each other informed and involved at all times, congratulations – you got yourself some silos.    

You can call them silos. Or Divisions. Departments. Teams. Tribes. Groups. But be aware that they are siloed in most cases.  


The Impact of Silos on Organizational Performance and Collaboration

Silos function as invisible walls and barriers, fragmenting teams and obstructing the free flow of information. Nobody plans to build them in their organization, yet they are everywhere. Management structures, reporting lines, KPIs, incentive schemes, they are all the yellow bricks that the organizations follow to the hell of working in silos. This often results in a lack of shared knowledge, inefficiencies through duplicated efforts, unspotted dependencies and a compromised ability to quickly adapt to market changes. The impact of silos extends beyond mere organizational performance; it directly influences the organization’s capacity for innovation and collective problem-solving.

In short, if you have siloes in your organization, you’re driving the car with the parking break on. 

Fact is that employee recognition programs can’t break down the siloes, but they do have a role to play. There are some other things you should do first though. 


Strategies for Breaking Down Silos

Set collaborative goals or start implementing OKRs

Align organizational goals and cascade them through the organization so that the departments are forced to collaborate. Managers can set objectives that require input and collaboration from multiple departments. Common goals and KPIs can help bring people together. 

A framework such as OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is designed to make people see the big picture, understand the common goals and how does their work roll up to the big vision and company goals. It also helps people understand who else they need to work with to reach the key results and objectives.  

Establish cross-functional teams as the norm

Be very intentional with the formation of cross-functional teams that bring together employees from different departments to work on projects. This not only promotes collaboration but also helps team members understand the unique strengths and perspectives each department brings to the table. It is as much an empathy building exercise as it is a knowledge expanding building one. Many silos are created not because people don’t care, but because they don’t have enough information. 

Establish clear communication channels and maintain them

Create and maintain clear communication channels between departments. Easier said then done. Regular meetings, both formal and informal, can enhance information flow and provide a platform for open discussions. This ensures that insights and knowledge are shared seamlessly across the organization. 

On the other hand, beware of meeting overload, especially in hybrid or remote modes of work. Some communication platforms such as Slack, Teams or Yammer can help, but don’t think that the fact that they are there and easily available means people will automatically use them. There needs to be a lot of energy dedicated to maintaining open channels of comunication. 

Promote Cross-Training

This is similar to the cross-functional teams idea, but on another level. Less learning on the job, more like classroom information sharing, to bring scale immediately. Make sure to organize  cross-training opportunities where employees can learn skills from different departments. This not only broadens their skill set but also creates a better understanding of the challenges and contributions of colleagues in other areas.

Organize Team-Building Activities

Plan and execute team-building activities that involve members from various departments. Whether it’s a physical retreat or a virtual team-building exercise, these activities help build personal connections, fostering a sense of camaraderie and breaking down silos.

Create an Inclusive Culture

Take another look at your Culture Document. Analyze the core values from an unintentional silo building perspective. Do core values help breaking or building silos? 

For example, if you have a core value that is all about operational excellence, raising the bar, ownership – if people misinterpret this it can lead to individuality, internal competitiveness and creating silos. 

What about the infamous “go fast and break things” – does it sound like bringing down the silos or creating them? Are people motivated to let others know about their intentions or check for interdependencies?  

You should strive to create an inclusive culture where every person and every department feels valued. This needs to be reflected in your core values and the managers need to lead by example, actively seeking input from diverse teams and acknowledging their contributions. This inclusivity sends a strong message that collaboration is not just encouraged but integral to the organization’s success.

Implement Recognition Programs

Once your Culture Document has been fine-tuned to help you break the silos, you need to embed it into the daily life or your people. Integrate recognition programs into the company culture to highlight and celebrate collaborative achievements. Recognizing teams that have successfully worked across departments encourages a culture of unity and reinforces the idea that collaboration is essential for success.

Real-Life Examples of Companies Fostering Unity Through Recognition:

Several forward-thinking companies have successfully implemented employee recognition programs to break down silos and foster unity:


Zappos, the online retailer, encourages a culture of appreciation by letting employees give “Zollars” to their coworkers for exceptional teamwork. This recognition system breaks down departmental barriers, fostering a sense of camaraderie and collaboration.


IBM utilizes a recognition program called “Thanks and Recognition” (T&R), where employees publicly appreciate each other’s efforts. By emphasizing collaboration in these recognitions, IBM fosters a culture of appreciation that transcends departmental boundaries.


Cisco implemented a real-time acknowledgment system that allows employees to recognize each other across departments. This immediate acknowledgment reinforces the interconnectedness of various teams and contributes to a collaborative organizational culture.


Real-Life Examples of Smaller Companies Fostering Unity Through Recognition:

Let’s explore how smaller companies, including one from the gaming industry, have successfully embraced recognition programs to break down silos:

Pixal Studios (Gaming Industry):

Pixal Studios, a small but thriving game development company, implemented a unique recognition program called “Quest Accolades.” Team members earn virtual accolades when they collaborate effectively on projects, contributing to a shared goal. This gamified approach not only recognizes individual achievements but also promotes collaboration across departments, fostering a sense of unity and shared success.

SparkTech Solutions (Tech Startup):

SparkTech Solutions, a tech startup, encourages cross-functional collaboration through a recognition system named “Innovator Spotlight.” Employees nominate peers whose innovative ideas or contributions have positively impacted the company. This initiative breaks down silos by highlighting the diverse talents across different departments, fostering a culture of appreciation and teamwork.

Bloom & Bloom Design Studio (Creative Agency):

Bloom & Bloom, a creative agency, successfully implemented “Cross-Pollination Fridays,” a recognition initiative where employees from various departments collaborate on projects outside their usual scope. This not only nurtures creativity but also breaks down silos by encouraging employees to appreciate and learn from each other’s expertise.


In simple terms, breaking down silos is super important for big companies, but smaller ones should be aware how easy it is to get siloed. It takes only a few hard working and focused people to get stuck in their swim lanes and forget about their colleagues for a while – and there you go.  

When companies customize their culture documents, core values and employee recognition programs to fit their unique vibe and the goal of breaking the silos, amazing things happen. These programs become powerful tools, boosting teamwork, hitting common goals, and making sure everyone gets credit, no matter the department. 

The examples we shared prove that bringing people together through recognition isn’t about the size of the company or the industry it’s in. It’s a strategy that works everywhere, creating a culture where everyone feels important and contributes to the company’s success. In the complex world of today’s workplace, acknowledging and cheering on the accomplishments of diverse teams is the key to building a strong and united organizational culture.

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