When Many in Your Company Work in Silos, How Do You Get Them to Collaborate?

TL;DR: The formation of silos in your organisation depends on the structure of your organisation and the examples set by your leadership team. Training alone cannot compensate for gaps in leadership, nor can training overcome an organisational structure that keeps people away from collaborating.


There was an air of discomfort in the large, mostly-empty meeting room. 

The gentleman sitting in the back was twiddling his thumbs. Next to him, a well-dressed woman slumped into her chair and sighed. Good thing she wasn’t loud enough to be heard above the whoosh of the air-conditioner. 

When the presenter had his back turned, the audience in the room looked to one another – like they were communicating wirelessly through the language of stares, blinks and furrowed brows. The audience didn’t look optimistic. 

Eddie, an external consultant, was presenting his proposal at a large telco. After he finished his presentation he asked the room, “So, how shall we take this forward?” After a long uncomfortable silence,



And awkward glances around the room.



And copious amounts of shuffling in seats.



An attendee mercifully chimed in, “We’ll need to work together with another department to move this forward”.

But no one in the room seemed to want to speak to the ‘other’ department.


As organisations grow, silos form. Walls are built, and doors, once open, become locked. Even as our tools for communication become advanced, allowing us to communicate across continents and work remotely, it sometimes seems that it’s too much to ask for one department to talk to another – even when they’re just down the hallway. 

And now that the silos have formed and the organisation’s growth stalls because of the sheer number of closed, impenetrable doors, the top bosses call a meeting with human resources. “We need our people to collaborate more!” the big bosses demand.

The hard-working folks in HR kick into action and arrange for a raft of training solutions to be run organisation-wide. “But will training work?” they ponder while crossing their fingers and toes.

Yes, training will work. But before training can be effective, first comes the challenging task of 1) Restructuring the organisation to encourage collaboration and 2) Building leadership role models that people will follow.

1) Edit your organisational structure

When the corporate structure is too complex, it’s (almost) impossible for people to collaborate. Here’s an example:

A 100-person company with 30 managers will struggle to execute their projects because they have to build alignment amongst 30 people. Change will be slow, especially when it comes to major decisions involving a shift in direction or business priorities. Communication will suffer too, because 30 managers will have to understand the message before passing it on to their 70 subordinates.

But, if the 100-person company was run by just 10 managers instead of 30, alignment and communication becomes easier. When an organisation’s structural complexity is reduced, project management and decision-making becomes quicker, and collaboration moves into the fast lane. When you change your organisational structures, you encourage new behaviours – often without people ever noticing. 

2) Build leadership role models

In an  investment company, the CEO was notoriously bad at accepting feedback. He mercilessly bulldozed people if their ideas contradicted his own. After years of systemic abuse, a culture arose – people stubbornly refused to voice their opinions even when they had a lot to say. The CEO asked, “Why is it so hard to get our people to voice their opinions?” To which nobody responded.

The behaviour of the organisation mirrors the behaviour of their top leaders. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point, talks about how many people are needed for an idea or behaviour to be adopted by the masses. He claims that when 5% of people exhibit a behaviour, the others will start to adopt the same behaviour. So when an organisation’s top 5% role-models the behaviours they wish to encourage in the organisation, it can result in mass behaviour change that subsequently becomes culture.

Now you’re ready for: 3) Training

You’ve simplified your organisational structure to be more conducive for collaboration and you’ve gotten the top leaders of the company to role-model the collaborative behaviours that you want to encourage – now it’s time for training. 

Using training as a vehicle, you’re taking the new behaviours that your senior leaders are already role-modelling and presenting it to the rest of the organisation. Experiential training that helps people to experience the new behaviours, which are then applied into relatable scenarios, will go a long way to expedite change. Training is at its most effective when employees can see that behaviours are already starting to change around them, and are then sent for training (that includes the change that they are starting to see at the structural and leadership level).

What training should you run? How can you create training programmes that will ensure that change happens quicker and is sustained for the long term? Speak to us. We have a series of workshops on collaboration that can be customised to your needs and are bundled with post-training reinforcement to encourage long-term behaviour change. Have a chat with Mints at [email protected].


This is a multi-part series on collaboration. If you’d like to get notified on the next part of this series, sign up to our email newsletter here