Breaking Down Information Silos: 6 Ways They Impact Your Organization 

By Jasmine Long
May 30, 2024
5 min read
Blog
Engagement

What are information silos? 

In the world of agriculture, a “silo” is classically a large, cylindrical container used to make and store silage to feed cattle. It is a structure that stands apart from others and is self-contained.  

In the business world, an information and knowledge silo can be considered to be any part of an organization or a group within the workforce where information is not shared with others outside that silo.   

Ultimately that standalone and self-contained approach leads to gaps in access to information.  It also means information and knowledge does not flow smoothly through an organization, creating a number of wider problems and issues.  

The value of busting information silos 

Those organizations that are able to successfully bust information silos and enable smoother information flow can avoid problems and reap the benefits. 

More impactful internal communications 

Effective internal communication is critical for organizations to keep employees informed and drive employee engagement. Messaging from senior leaders also helps align employees to an organization’s strategy and purpose.  

Silos remain a persistent thorn in the side that prevent impactful internal communications travelling throughout an organization. They can also cause a chaotic pile-up of multiple messages from different sources that just get ignored.   

In the authoritative Gallager “State of the Sector” report for 2024, internal comms professionals identified “Internal technology / channels not fit for purpose” as the fourth biggest barrier to effective internal communications[1]. Removing information silos to enable effective internal comms should be a priority for every leader. 

Increased efficiency and less wasted time 

A staggering amount of time gets wasted in looking for information. Multiple studies over the years have suggested that knowledge workers can spend a significant part of their working hours trying to find that elusive document or piece of data. Research from Starmind concludes that knowledge workers lose 102 minutes of each eight-hour day looking for information[2]. 

Information silos are one of the main reasons it takes so long to find anything. When information is stuck in a particular system or kept within a particular team, it can be hard to know where to look. Inevitably employees waste time trying to look for it, and then waste their colleague’s time by asking them. 

Many of us feel consistently time-pressured and every minute counts. Removing silos means we can find what we need more quickly and  get some of our day back. 

Improved processes and productivity 

Many successful processes rely on access to the right information and the corresponding ability for it to flow across an organization. Delivering great customer service is a classic example. Customer-facing staff need to have access to accurate information and knowledge about products and services to be able to be able to provide the service. They may also need to be able to contact an expert or another team to quickly resolve an issue.  

The research form Starmind already mentioned suggests that 43% of employees experience unwanted delays in responding to customers due to missing information. 

When we aren’t limited by information silos it means we can improve and even transform process in areas such as employee onboarding, project delivery and compliance.  It also means that we can standardize processes across every location or department, so they are done in the most efficient and impactful way.  

Minimizing risks and driving compliance 

Managing risk across an organization is essential, particularly in regulated industries like financial services and healthcare. Employees need to have access to the right information to make decisions and follow different processes and procedures.  Employees also need to be made aware of risks such as of those around cybersecurity. 

Information silos increase the risk of employees not having access to the right procedural information at the right time, or even relying on wrong, out-of-date or conflicting information. Silos may also lead to them being unaware of the latest cyber threat. 

At worse, information silos can also impact compliance commitments. Third-party regulators can take a dim view of organizations where silos are rife and employees can’t get access to the critical information they need for compliance purposes.  

More knowledge-sharing, learning and upskilling opportunities 

With consistent skill shortages in organizations and high recruitment costs, many organizations are focused on upskilling employees. Being able to learn from others and sharing knowledge will make a significant difference, but according to research from LinkedIn only 26% of employees say their business encourages them to learn a new skill[3]. Information and knowledge silos significantly limit the opportunities to learn and upskill from peers.  

Silos also means that employees don’t share what they know or useful knowledge assets that could be reused by others. Have you ever found that there is a killer sales presentation that someone else has created, that you could have then adapted and used? Or a highly useful budgeting spreadsheet that would save you hours of time? By not sharing knowledge, employees continually waste time by reinventing the wheel, and also miss out on opportunities to work smarter and do things better.  

In a recent survey of Knowledge Management (KM) professionals, 38% identified employee frustration with “chaotic, disorganized information repositories” as the most prevalent issue for them to tackle. Meanwhile 30% said that leaders were now recognizing the risks of knowledge silos[4]. 

Better employee engagement 

Many of the things we’ve talked about above impact employee engagement. Effective internal communications and inspiring messages from leaders. Being able do their jobs effectively with clear and efficient processes. Avoiding the daily frustration of wasting time trying to find information. The ability to learn new skills and help grow and develop.  Feeling part of a true professional and social community across your organization, making powerful connections and even friendships. 

Organizations with information silos can struggle with all of these, undermining employee engagement. But when you reduce and even eliminate information silos things start to fall into place and can contibute to subsequent improvements in engagement.  

What Now? 

Now that we’ve covered the 6 ways information silos impact organizations, find out how to break them down in our FREE eBook “Why Information Silos Suck…and What to Do About Them”  

By Jasmine Long

Jasmine is passionate about harnessing the power of digital marketing to drive social impact. She previously was the Communications Assistant at Jumpstart Refugee Talent, a nonprofit dedicated to facilitating employment opportunities for refugees in Canada. She is currently the Marketing Coordinator for Intranet Connections!