Break down silos at work

The Modern Approach for Addressing Business Silos

December 27, 2019 by Milton Herman

5 min read

Many people want to know how our product is different than other knowledge base, wiki and writing tools.

One of the answers is the opportunity to improve collaboration, transparency, and confidence that you and your team members are working on the right things at the right time. In other words, reversing the systems of organizational silos.

Here’s more about this problem, and how Topple fits in.

Modern Solution With Historical Relevance

The fervor behind breaking down silos is not new. GE CEO Jack Welch developed one of the first silo-busting processes in the late 1980s. His Work-Out process was designed to counter bureaucracy and organization problems with informed team decisions.

The three-phase process is time-consuming. Phase one includes 4-to-6 weeks of planning where senior managers and executives are interviewed about topics to cover. The number of participants varies from 20-30 up to 100. Participants were assigned different roles such as agent, sponsor, and driver.

Phase two is a 3-day meeting with various pre-determined agendas. Exercises include SIPOC (supplier, input, process, output, customer) exercises, root-cause analysis and decision-making panel deliberation.

Phase three was the implementation of those decisions with updates occurring at least every 30 days. The process had a lot of moving parts, but it worked. GE had massive growth during Welch’s tenure. The company was able to shift to emerging markets and stay innovative as they celebrated their centennial anniversary in 1992.

The Work-Out is still applied by organizations today, but the speed of business is much faster than 20 years ago. Companies don’t have time to stop everything for a 3-day silo-breaking summit.

Using long-form writing for communication and collaborative document reviews can have a similar impact but is less time consuming and offers engrained ongoing benefits. With document reviews, the three steps include a document request, document review and the implementation of whatever ideas were discussed.

Here’s how this system can address the common symptoms of a siloed workforce.

Identifying Silo Symptoms

First, the concept of breaking down, destroying or OBLITERATING silos is marketing buzz. Different departments have their own workflows and processes. Problems occur when departments become so separate and uninformed that production is hampered and tension increases.

Here’s how long-form communication can help repair the collaborative spirit between teams and groups:


Alignment problems arise when teams create more work for themselves and others because of conflicting goals and priorities. Interests are misaligned and responsibilities to each other are neglected. This is known as, “tower vision.” Managers are only concerned about their team’s needs.

Document reviews allow managers to get insight into other team initiatives and goals. They become participants in relevant reviews with other teams and can access documents from other reviews within the organization. This system makes it easier to balance company and team needs.

Example Document: Sales and Marketing KPI/Strategy Review

The work of sales and marketing teams is related, but these teams often function without reliable collaboration. A document review regarding KPIs and current strategy allows teams to feel confident about their work. For instance, sales reps might be using an outdated or inaccurate content asset to nurture leads even though the marketing team has completed an updated version.

Information Flow

In other cases, teams have a strong desire to collaborate, but the flow of information is not passing from team to team or manager to manager. Details get lost in the sea of chat messages and emails, software tools might not jive together or there are communication issues with remote and co-located team members. This is usually coupled with free-flowing top-down communication (directions from managers) but a lack of bottom-up communication (useful feedback from team members).

Document reviews improve information flow by extracting team knowledge. This improves bottom-up communication by getting these thoughts, ideas, and insights into written form when they’re usually stowed away for personal use, or shared when venting to a coworker. The process of reviewing documents instead of relying on repetitive chat conversations and meetings improves information flow.

Example Document: Design and Development Review

There are countless ways to accomplish this, but the idea of this document is to prevent the problems associated with archaic waterfall engineering. This is where problems are uncovered as the project progresses, reviewing the project together prevents this. It also sets guidelines for how teams will work together.


The human element can’t be overlooked. There’s a reason culture has become more important to the workforce and a priority for employers. Teams who don’t get along personally usually struggle to share information professionally. Team-building exercises, moving workstation locations, pairing calls with coworkers are all common suggestions.

There’s no specific document example of improving team chemistry. Brainstorms are a great comparison. Brainstorm sessions are a natural team builder for creative teams. Ideas are thrown out in an informal and genuine fashion. All participants regardless of seniority or title are listened to and taken seriously.

Document reviews are similar, with everyone providing roundtable feedback. This structure removes the “must impress” nature of corporate meetings and replaces it with genuine conversation. With brainstorms, the output is a creative supply. Document reviews provide an output of team confidence and focus.

Address Silos, Expect Success

There’s always going to be more factors involved when it comes to breaking silos, but document reviews and detailed written communication address many of the reported symptoms. Instead of a 3-day summit, consider practical document requests as a starting point for any company silo problem.

Create knowledge not excuses. Expect success with Topple.

Topple provides tools that help teams create and use documents to communicate, remember, and thrive.