Knowledge sharing – an effective way of breaking down organizational silos

5 June 2024
Jolanta Kozak
Knowledge sharing – an effective way of breaking down organizational silos
7 min.

Navigating information silos poses a common challenge for numerous companies. Despite their intangible nature, these silos can significantly impede a company’s growth potential and hamper team effectiveness. Hence, delving deeper into this phenomenon is essential to grasp its formation mechanisms and associated risks, as well as to acquire effective strategies for preventing their emergence.

Silo – the unseen barrier blocking the flow of information

Organizational silos are isolated areas within a company where information, resources, and processes are confined to a single department or group, with members focused solely on their own goals. The term “silos” originates from agriculture, where tall, airtight structures store grain to prevent mixing and facilitate management. Similarly, in a business context, “organizational silos” refer to departments or groups that operate independently, withholding information, resources, and processes from the rest of the organization.

Organizational silos come in various forms. Some examples include:

  • Departmental silo – arises from the organization’s inherent structural divisions (such as departments, units, or teams). This occurs when a department operates in isolation, concentrating on its own operational activities rather than collaborating on strategic initiatives.
  • Cultural silo – this is particularly evident in international organizations, where differences in work culture, values, goals, and communication methods create distinctly separate groups or departments.
  • Location silo – primarily affects companies with a dispersed structure. It arises when different branches or teams are geographically distant, promoting knowledge sharing within each branch but hindering information flow to other parts of the organization.
  • Schedule silo – occurs in teams operating on a shift system or at different times, where the flow of information is dependent on the specific shift a team member is working.

These are just selected examples of silos. They can form anywhere barriers exist, restricting the free flow of information and hindering effective collaboration within an organization.

Disrupted internal communication within the company: the root cause of information silos

What drives the formation of organizational silos? Several key factors, both structural and behavioral, contribute to their creation. These include organizational culture, psychological barriers among employees, organizational structure, divergent goals, and poor management. It is crucial for companies to proactively address these factors and foster a more integrated and collaborative work environment.

Organizational culture

A primary factor fueling organizational silos is undeniably the breakdown in communication between different departments or groups. This often stems from an overarching organizational culture that lacks genuine support for knowledge-sharing and developmental initiatives. Such a culture may result from the absence of practices and habits conducive to sharing knowledge between seasoned and junior employees, coupled with the apprehension of some individuals that sharing their expertise could jeopardize their status as experts or even their job security. These individuals perceive others as competitors and potential threats to their career advancement. The absence of a culture of knowledge sharing means that information and skills fail to trickle down effectively to lower organizational levels, giving rise to a host of communication and knowledge transfer issues.

Mental blocks

Employee hesitance to share information can stem from a fear that their knowledge lacks value and will be met with negative judgment. This is often reflected in imposter syndrome, where individuals, despite their accomplishments, doubt their worthiness of recognition or position. Those afflicted by this syndrome harbor a distrust in their abilities, resulting in a reluctance to share insights or opinions. Such uncertainty regarding an employee’s significance to the company’s progress can foster a communication vacuum within teams, impeding collaboration and dampening overall productivity. Hence, it’s crucial for employees to feel secure and assured that their contributions are esteemed, as every perspective holds the potential to propel the company forward.

Organizational structure

The risk of isolation and constrained information flow is particularly visible in organizations with intricate hierarchical structures. In such companies, where each department effectively operates as a distinct silo, there’s often a lack of awareness about the workings of other business units. This results in duplicated efforts, resource wastage, and wide-scale inefficiencies. Moreover, it impedes cross-departmental collaboration, hindering the realization of synergies. These silos split knowledge and stifle innovation across the entire company. Operating in isolation, departments may inadvertently engage in internal competition, with employees hesitant to share new ideas and solutions for fear of exploitation.

Conflicting or unclear objectives

A lack of clear goals and organizational values can create confusion and fragmentation within a company. Without a unified direction, teams may prioritize their objectives, struggling to align them with the company’s mission. Over time, this ambiguity weakens employee morale, causing uncertainty about their roles and significance within the organization. This disorientation can lead to increased turnover and decreased engagement. To prevent these issues, it is crucial to consistently develop and communicate clear objectives and values across all levels of the organization, fostering a common direction and strengthening a sense of community among employees.


When leaders fail to coordinate between different areas effectively and do not promote open communication and information sharing, isolation is perpetuated, and the flow of knowledge within the organization is restricted. Consequently, employees may lose motivation to collaborate and engage with others, further exacerbating the sense of isolation.

Isolation as a barrier to company growth

86 percent of employees cite lack of collaboration for workplace failures

The silos within an organization can have severe consequences, potentially even leading to the company’s collapse. Reduced information flow between departments, teams, or groups makes it challenging to accurately assess the situation. Consequently, poor decisions are made based on incomplete data. Furthermore, silos can stifle team potential, diminish motivation, and create conflicts. According to Fierce, 86% of employees identify a lack of cooperation or ineffective communication as the primary cause of workplace failure.

The presence of silos significantly hinders the achievement of business goals. Companies such as MySpace, Volkswagen, and Pets. com have observed the real effects of this problem:


During MySpace’s competition with Facebook, one of the main challenges was the isolation of market-savvy teams from the technical team responsible for product development. Organizational silos prevented valuable insights from translating into technical decisions. Over time, this led to the development of products that failed to meet user expectations. Difficult cooperation and inconsistency ultimately contributed to the platform’s decline in popularity.

(Source: Webflow)


Do you remember the 2015 “dieselgate” scandal? At the root of Volkswagen’s image problems was its rigid, siloed organizational structure, where promotions were only possible within one’s own department. This structure intensified the silos within the company. The lack of interdepartmental cooperation and the fear of communicating with superiors allowed the underestimation of exhaust emission rates to go unaddressed for a long time. This neglect resulted in a major environmental scandal, severely damaging the company’s reputation.

(Source: Berkley Law)

Operating between 1998 and 2000, this innovative company had the potential to rival Amazon but ultimately faced market failure.’s downfall stemmed from a critical issue: inadequate collaboration between its marketing, finance, and supply chain management departments. This lack of coordination and shared goals led to inefficient spending on extensive advertising campaigns that yielded minimal revenue. Ultimately, these challenges precipitated the company’s collapse.

(Source: Flowtrace)

How to break down silos in your organization?

Preventing silos within an organization requires active engagement from all: leaders, employees, and management. It’s a gradual process that hinges on understanding the current organizational culture to effectively pinpoint areas for improvement. How can leaders initiate these changes? By fostering a culture of open communication, supporting professional development, incentivizing knowledge sharing, and building trust among different groups within the company. Additionally, leveraging tools such as regular interdepartmental meetings, collaborative projects, shared goals, and technology like intranet systems can effectively help to sidestep working in silos.

Knowledge-sharing culture at Surfer SEO

Surfer SEO provides a compelling example of successfully addressing organizational silos through several key initiatives:

  • Weekly sessions for all employees to collaboratively discuss ongoing projects.
  • An internal newsletter platform enabling staff to share articles and insights.
  • The introduction of a “Lunch and Learn” program, where employees can together explore topics related to SEO, content, and analytics.

Effective knowledge transfer

Effective knowledge transfer, facilitated through both formal training and informal meetings, empowers employees with a comprehensive understanding of the business, fostering greater integration and coherence. A culture of knowledge-sharing promotes communication and collaboration, countering the isolation and fragmentation of information within an organization. Cultivating and sustaining this culture not only mitigates the detrimental effects of silos but also yields numerous other benefits:

  • Enhancing processes, thereby boosting overall operational efficiency.
  • Elevating the quality of products and services delivered to customers.
  • Fueling employee development, leading to increased innovation within the company.
  • Cultivating a learning organization and fostering a supportive workplace environment.
  • Aligning departmental or team goals with the company’s strategic objectives.

Establishing a knowledge-sharing organizational culture is a gradual process. To achieve long-lasting and positive structural changes, it is essential to adopt a holistic approach that encompasses technological advancements and social dynamics.

Technology’s pivotal role in breaking down organizational silos

While relying solely on modern technological solutions isn’t sufficient to effectively dismantle organizational silos, technology plays a crucial role in this process. Tools like corporate knowledge base, digital workplace platform, OKRs, and performance appraisal tools enable a smooth flow of information and effective collaboration across various departments within the company. Automating repetitive manual tasks further frees up resources for strategic initiatives, enhancing overall organizational efficiency. However, it is important to conduct a careful diagnosis beforehand that allows identifying both the blockers and the needs in terms of information exchange.

How can you effectively integrate these strategies into your organization?

Breaking silos in an organization is primarily about building a culture of openness, cooperation, and trust. Every leader and employee has a key role to play here. Start with small steps that can make a big difference:

  1. Organize regular interdepartmental meetings – they facilitate the exchange of knowledge and information, allowing for a better understanding of common goals and challenges.
  2. Promote cross-departmental projects – By working together on common goals, teams learn from each other and understand the value of knowledge sharing.
  3. Encourage continuous development – investing in training and skills development increases employee engagement and willingness to share knowledge.
  4. Leverage technology – tools such as an intranet or digital workplace platform can significantly improve the flow of information and collaboration between teams.
  5. Monitor and reward progress – remember a culture of appreciation – sometimes a “regular” kudos or a public thank you can significantly increase motivation and sense of belonging among employees.

Remember that every step, even the smallest, towards breaking silos contributes to building a more integrated, innovative and competitive organization!