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  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

Organizational Silos and the Walls of DISTRUST

As companies grow, they start developing silos between different functional departments, business units, or both. Silos are separated by walls of distrust. While the level of trust within an organizational unit increases, the level of trust across those walls decreases. The consequences of having silos can be devastating to organizations. Not only that different units in the organization don’t support each other, but they often find themselves fighting with each other. What could be 1+1=3 turns into 1+1=1. You can have the best HR, finance, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, or sales department, but what does it matter when the company fails?

There is a reciprocal relationship between trust and the formation and existence of silos. Distrust across organizational units causes them to build silos, and the existence of those silos further causes distrust.

This article will use the relative trust model to explain why silos are formed and how to combat them.


Why do silos form?

  • It starts with a leadership team in which members focus on their respective departments and not the company as a whole.

  • There is no compelling vision or mission at the company level that pulls everyone to the same side of “the wall,” or there is no strong external “common enemy” that pushes them to be on the same side (opposite side of the common enemy)

  • Internal competition (for resources, budget, promotions, etc.) is encouraged.

How to break silos down?

  • Members of the executive team must remember that, first and foremost, they are executives in the company, and only secondly, they are the leaders of their respective units.

  • The organization should develop and adopt a compelling company-level mission that can pull people at all units over to the same side of the distrust wall. At the same time, emphasize the existence of strong external “common enemies” (such as competitors, market conditions, supply-chain issues, etc.) that will further push people together to the same side of that wall.

  • Internal competition should be strongly discouraged across organizational units and their leaders (and, of course, within units). Competition should only exist at the company level (see “common enemy”).

Personality Compatibility

Why do silos form?

  • Personality incompatibility between members of the leadership team, whether it existed before they joined the team or after, is another reason to push them apart into their silos.

  • Different internal cultures, behaviors, and norms form within different organizational units, causing people within the unit to be members of the “in-group” and consider people in other organizational units to be members of the “out-group.”

How to break silos down?

  • Personality compatibility issues should be addressed. If they can be resolved through training, spending more time together, or being more open with feedback, they should. If they are the result of fundamental, non-negotiable personality or value differences, the leadership team should be restructured to eliminate such incompatibilities. Tough decisions, such as removing a member, might have to be made.

  • The overriding culture in the organization should be company-level culture. Local cultures for different units are acceptable as long as they don’t conflict with each other (discourage “local” cultures that disparage other organizational units).

Time & Intimacy

Why do silos form?

  • Leadership team members spend the most time with the organizational units they lead. They spend little time with each other in leadership-wide events, such as leadership team meetings. As a result, they don’t learn to trust each other enough.

  • Members of an organizational unit spend more time with other members of the same unit and less time with members of other units. They spend more in-person time within the unit and less personal time (e.g., through email) with people outside their unit.

How to break silos down?

  • Leadership team members should spend more time with each other, even on a personal level. The best working relationships are those that extend beyond work.

  • Members of different organizational units should be assigned to cross-functional teams charged with company-level objectives. This way, they will spend more time with members of other units and build trust with them.

Trust Transferability

Why do silos form?

  • Trust is transferrable. When you trust a person who trusts another person, you tend to trust the other person too. The same applies to distrust. New employees joining a functional/business unit will hear from the “elders” about who they should trust. They will form their opinion about people from other organizations even without knowing them personally, and if silos existed for a while, they will hear why they should distrust them.

How to break silos down?

  • Appointing members of organizational units to cross-functional teams with members of other units will give them firsthand exposure to what other units go through and a better understanding of their perspective. When they return to their organizational units, they will advocate for the other units to those who didn’t get such firsthand exposure. Some companies also consider tools such as job rotation, by rotating employees through different business units to give them better exposure. While it could reduce distrust between employees from different organizational units, it might also reduce trust within units as members don’t spend enough time in person with one another.


Dr. Yoram Solomon is a trust expert, author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a two-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that help build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events.

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