Silo Mentality: The Bane of Most Teams

One of the biggest frustrations expressed by business leaders of teams is the ‘silo mentality.’ This mentality allows people to work in separate silos or independent units with only cursory regard for other units or team members. It is characterized by a “just let me do my job and get results” attitude, with little recognition for the power of working synergistically and collaboratively to obtain superior overall results. A team of silos does not engender a positive working atmosphere. By default, everyone ends up being in it for their own skin. This atmosphere occasionally becomes toxic. Fundamentally, silo mentality precludes the building of a High Performance Team.

Many leaders blame themselves for not getting their teams more engaged. Take heart! The default behavior of team members will by nature be siloed, until you do the work. Teams don’t become strong, cohesive units without effort; it takes perseverance, with a clear stated intention to become a true team.

How do move teams from a collection of individuals, to a true team? The first thing is to measure the team or understand its “Team Quotient” or “TQ”. We created this concept of TQ, which diagnoses the team’s strengths and development opportunities and arrive at a collective score. Once the team knows its Team Quotient, it can then align around specific remedies. The very act of measuring and aligning puts team consciousness in motion.

Next the team needs a clear direction, vision or mission. We are not talking about the company vision, rather the team vision here. The company vision is often too broad to be compelling for the team at hand. On the other hand the team vision will galvanize the team into action and pull it towards its goals. The vision should be something that can only be realized through the efforts of the entire team. It should be specific, tangible, and then broken down into meaningful goals.

To move from silo mentality to high performance, the team needs a payoff. This is why, fun, challenge and celebration are so important. A Swiss client and I were heavily into some feedback exercises during a TQ-team offsite when I sensed it was time for a break. Upon returning to the conference room, I suggested to the team that we should have some fun. Most readily agreed, however Heinz, one of the leaders, raised his hand and promptly admonished, “Fun? How can we have fun? This is business!” It was inconceivable to him that a leadership team could have fun together. Yet it is this very enjoyment of working and being together which provides the juice to move to high performance.

One reason why teams stay siloed is that there is no reward or recognition for showing up as a team. One of the most powerful tools in your team arsenal is recognition. When team members recognize each other during meetings, the atmosphere begins to shift. People feel more willing to contribute and show up; the attention is sometimes all it takes. I often coach my clients to instead of just reacting to what others say, acknowledge or recognize the points they have made. This may be expressed in simple remarks such as: “interesting point…”, “what Mary said makes me think of….”, “on your idea of…”. When simple, frequent recognition becomes a habit, the entire mood of the team shifts. Team meetings become interesting and rewarding.

It’s easy to get away with silo mentality because team members do not naturally collaborate. It takes effort, energy and time. A few years back, I coached a national pharmaceutical team with distinct geographies. The leader created meaningful projects requiring both geographic and functional representation. Leaders who create collaborative activities, projects etc., and build in collaboration as a part of the team experience and requirements, find that the silo mentality starts to fade. The success of those projects could only be realized through collaboration. Once team members collaborate, they feel proud of their collective work, wanting to talk about it and be recognized for it. The very act of collaboration moves team members out of their silos.

Ultimately, to shift out of silos, you’ll want to create a compelling team identity. Strong Identity is a by-product of being able to relate to and feel good about the team, what it stands for, and the success it creates, as well as the relationships and camaraderie experienced by its members. Essentially, teams need something to be proud of and strive towards. This creates a palpable ‘buzz’ about the team. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team with the sense of Identity that ensues. Identity is strengthened by observing rituals to keep the momentum. Rituals can be included in regular meetings such as reflections on team behaviors, recognition, celebration, icebreakers, or other activities for example team lunches, drinks, trips, outings etc. Effectively anything that moves the team forward with a sense of identity can be a useful ritual.

Remember, your goal is to move people from a collection of individuals to a High Performance Team. Work on the following to get there: measure your Team Quotient, determine your vision, build in fun and celebration, engage in recognition, create projects requiring collaboration, and build identity. If you spend just six months focusing your team on these areas, your silos will gradually dissolve and transform into a new team consciousness.

Remember, leaders are only as good as the teams they build.

Douglas Gerber is Founder and CEO of Focus One, a consulting firm that helps leaders create High Performance Teams. After 23 years as a corporate executive, he developed a reputation for building successful teams. Later, as a consultant, he has personally worked with leaders from over 70 companies to develop their own winning Teams. Drawing from his own extensive background and 10 years of research, Douglas innovated the concept of “Team Quotient” (TQ). He is a thought leader in the area of team transformation. Learn more about Douglas and his upcoming book Team Quotient: How to Build High Performance Leadership Teams that Win Every Time on

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