Tango Blog
Knowledge Management
Think Information Silos Are Only Cross-Functional? Think Again.

Think Information Silos Are Only Cross-Functional? Think Again.

A Tango-branded illustration depicting information silos, with conversations and exchanges of knowledge taking place in different circles.
Table of Contents
Friends don't let friends learn the hard way.
Create how-to guides, in seconds.
Try Tango for free

💡 What are information silos?

Information silos emerge as a result of isolated data or knowledge. While they often form between departments, they can also pop up between individuals on the same team.

Information silos thrive when communication is vertical—or when relevant insights and experiences aren't accessible to anyone but the people who generated them.

What doesn't take place, when information silos take hold? Knowledge sharing.

What’s top of mind for both a 21-year-old intern and a seasoned C-suite executive? 

Information silos. 

While the intern may be focused on how to function with limited information and the executive may be determined to understand the business impact, get to the root cause, and incentivize knowledge sharing…their frustration is the same. And significant. 

When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, there’s friction for everyone. At all levels.

In this post, we’ll explain:

Information silos in the age of connectivity

In one sense, it feels strange to talk about information silos. 

After all:

  • The “age of connectivity” is here. A staggering 5.16 billion people (64% of our global population) use the internet. There are roughly 500,000 new internet users every single day. And by 2030, 7.5 billion of us will be online. 👀
  • We have more data at our fingertips than ever before. Reporting capabilities are table stakes for software tools. Many of us are now more concerned about data privacy and security than data availability. 🔐
  • Information overload feels like the hotter topic. In case you missed it: there’s an entire movement dedicated to personal knowledge management and how to build a second brain. 🤯

But the sheer volume of available information is half the battle. What adds another level of complexity? How fast knowledge can be created, captured, shared, consumed, and applied—and how tricky it is to consistently check all of those boxes.

An image illustrating the different stages of knowledge (from creation to application).

What causes information silos? 

The short answer is faulty knowledge sharing.

The long answer is a laundry list of compounding factors, including:

  • No consensus on company goals. 📝 Without a clear understanding of company goals—and how department-level initiatives and individual projects ladder up to them—it’s hard to know what information should be shared, when. 
  • Lack of communication. 🤷🏽 When teams and/or teammates don’t communicate, it’s easy to make decisions that don’t take what others are working on into account. What can also quickly go off the rails? Prioritization. 
  • Too many tools. 🤔 We have tools for customer relationship management. Sales analytics and enablement. Demand generation and marketing automation. Content and project management. And so many more. If those tools don’t talk to one another, it’s hard to have a single source of truth for data.
  • Not enough documentation. 👎🏾 Imagine how much institutional knowledge is trapped inside people’s heads, local file systems, and specialized applications. Then picture how much employee knowledge you’ve seen walk out the door as people have left the building for good. 
  • Documentation that’s not easily discoverable, relevant, or formatted well. 🙅♀️ Even when the information *is* available, it’s often: hard to find, fragmented, outdated, imprecise, or wordy.
  • Silo mentality. 🛑  If people consider managing their own work, inside their own function as Priority #1, they may prioritize their own projects and opportunities to make an impact over what’s best for the business. 
  • Insufficient knowledge transfer incentives. 🔍 If department leaders, team managers, and individual contributors don’t see knowledge sharing as necessary to their efforts, it’s easy to let it slip by the wayside. 
  • Privacy concerns. 🔒 Some departments (take Human Resources, for example) may want to keep their information close due to security reasons.
  • Remote/hybrid work. 🏡 We love working from our pajamas as much as the next person—but there’s no denying that it takes some intentionality to keep people in different time zones on the same page. 
⚠️ Most of us think about siloed information as a cross-functional, department-level challenge.

But because knowledge can be so hard to transfer even within teams, silos are equally common between teammates in the same group.

Whether you’re an individual contributor with a pulse on the big picture or a manager charged with change management, here are six scenarios that can create information silos. 

Information Silos: 6 Common Catalysts 

What to watch for Why to keep an eye out
Explosive growth Ever work for a company that doubles or triples in size in a matter of months? It’s a wild ride. Even if you have communication norms in place, avoiding information silos can be tough.
Introduction of new technology As companies grow, it’s common to tack on point solutions for new problems. When new software doesn’t integrate with your existing tech stack, data silos usually develop.
A merger and/or acquisition This is basically #1 and #2 combined. You’re looking at an influx of new people AND new systems/tools.
Planning season Information silos are likely if you don’t take a collaborative approach to goal setting (at the organizational, departmental, team, and individual level).
High turnover Without a strong culture of documentation, it’s hard to prevent knowledge loss when talent moves on. The more cross-functional the role, the bigger the risk.
Limited bottom-up communication If there aren’t many actionable suggestions filtering up from below, there’s a good chance people are starting to work in silos.

The problem(s) with working in silos

In an ideal world, information would flow freely between—and within—cross-functional teams. 

We’d default to working in public. We’d know about all major initiatives underway. And everyone would know exactly where to look to find the knowledge they need to do their best work.

When that doesn’t happen, a few other things do. 

A graphic depicting 8 consequences of working in silos in business.

Let’s consider each in turn. 👇

1. Wasted time and energy.

We spend an inordinate amount of time and mental energy looking for information. 1.8 hours every day, according to McKinsey research. What’s equally eye-opening, as a result of information silos? The amount of duplicative work going on. 

2. Misinformation.

Without a single source of truth, reconciling data from different software is frustrating at best. At worst? It increases the risk of inaccurate updates and forecasts—and pulls people away from doing valuable analysis to move the company forward.

3. More knowledge hoarding.

If information silos are the norm, knowledge hoarding may become more widespread. When a scarcity mindset prevails and people want to get credit for their ideas above all else, you end up with subject matter experts who want to be the only subject matter experts.

4. Suboptimal decision making.

The most successful teams make quick and informed decisions. What happens when people need to do extra legwork to find context they need—or skip digging deeper altogether? Your average decision making process gets extended, and data-driven decision making becomes a real challenge. 

5. Missed learning opportunities.

Microlearning is one of the best ways to build a culture of knowledge sharing, close skill gaps, and increase productivity. Where information silos thrive, learning does not. 

6. Stifled innovation.

By definition, information silos limit communication and collaboration between people, which can prevent the exchange of A+ ideas. When people work in silos, new market trends, technologies, customer insights, and more don’t see the light of day. 

7. Disjointed customer experiences.

Friction felt internally becomes friction felt externally very, very quickly. When customer data is restricted to certain team members or departments, you run the risk of asking a customer to provide the same information more than once and accidentally contradicting previous messaging.

8. Decreased morale.

Wasting time is frustrating. Trying to get stuff done with incomplete and/or incorrect information is stressful (if not downright impossible). Being surrounded by people who are in it for themselves is disheartening. On a scale of 1 to so thrilled you’d want to post a glowing Glassdoor review, where do you stand? 

The benefits of eliminating information silos

Convinced it’s time to do away with your information silos?

You may want to act sooner rather than later. 👇

A graphic depicting 8 reasons to dismantle information silos in a "before and after" style.

1. Greater efficiency.

What tends to surface first, when you get rid of information silos? Opportunities to do things better and faster. Minimizing redundant efforts. Streamlining workflows. Eliminating unnecessary steps. Automating repetitive tasks. The possibilities to improve overall productivity are endless.

2. Accurate information.

If misinformation flourished while you had information silos, information accuracy will improve as more information becomes available. What else will become clear? Where you and your team may have blind spots, and what you can do proactively to make the most of everyone’s time and talents.

3. More knowledge sharing.

Idle knowledge is useless knowledge. Without silos to inhibit the flow of information between teammates, teams, and departments, more knowledge sharing can take place. Beyond the obvious benefits, individuals and teams will be able to spend less time searching for help and answering the same questions—and more time making an impact and improving their craft.

4. Better decision making. 

#4 goes hand-in-hand with #3. When more knowledge transfer takes place consistently over time and there’s a wider range of readily accessible insights, expertise, and perspectives, everyone can make more informed decisions and projections. 

5. Continuous learning—in the flow of work.

“If you aren’t learning, you’re languishing” may sound harsh, but it’s true. Organizations that enable continuous learning—where and when work is happening—have a competitive advantage. You don’t need to have a big budget or formal programs in place, either. Learning on the job is cost effective *and* accelerates business growth. 

6. Increased creativity and collaboration.

It doesn’t matter if your information silo existed within a team or across teams. By knocking it down, new partnerships, natural synergies, and innovative ideas can quickly take its place. 

7. Connected customer experiences.

By removing data silos, you can quickly deliver a more remarkable customer experience. When your sales team can see what your marketing team sent and your support team can see the customer’s last touchpoint with your brand, it’s infinitely easier to provide a seamless end-to-end experience. 

8. Improved employee engagement. 

Another win-win. Without information silos standing in the way, people can waste less energy finding/sharing the knowledge they need, and spend more time getting better at the most interesting parts of their jobs. What’s the result? Employees who are more engaged, motivated, and likely to support each other—which ultimately helps company growth.

14 steps to break down silos

At this point, we’re well beyond “what is a silo.” We’ve rounded up the issues with letting information silos live, and layered the advantages to breaking them down on top. Now we’ll give you some practical ways to put a plan into action to reunite your people—and their unique knowledge.

Information Silos: 14 Ways To Stop Working in Silos

What to do Why to do it
Create shared objectives. To communicate company-level priorities, identify opportunities for collaboration, and keep information silos from springing back up.
Consolidate your tech stack. Data silos → information silos → knowledge silos.
Identify and document critical knowledge. Because knowledge is most valuable when it’s shared.
Guide people to success with interactive walkthroughs. To help people stay in flow and apply learnings in real-time (without screen sharing!).
Consider process a competitive advantage. Because it powers teams and empowers individuals—particularly during periods of rapid change.
Centralize key insights and best practices. To help everyone find the information they need, when they need it.
Develop multi-functional teams for critical initiatives. To avoid duplicative work and ensure alignment when it’s most important.
Designate cross-functional liaisons. So you can keep lines of communication open across departments on an ongoing basis.
Embrace show and tell. Whether it’s a segment during an all-hands, a monthly business review, or a weekly async update, give people a chance to market their work internally (and invite feedback).
Establish communication norms. So employees know where, when, and how to share information.
Host company-wide pre- and post-mortems. To keep collective areas for improvement top of mind.
Build knowledge sharing into company culture. Because knowledge hoarding helps no one, and institutional knowledge helps everyone.
Recognize your Knowledge Champions. Because they know knowledge sharing is a practice, not a one-off project. And if you reward them, others will follow their lead.
Help people connect as humans. Want people to work well together? Organize small group dinners. Drop an icebreaker into a breakout room. Get everyone together off-site. Let them get to know each other as people.

The bottom line

What’s the TL;DR? [Shared] knowledge is power. 

Information silos restrict the flow of information. And they don’t crop up just between teams—they can develop within them, too. 

The simplest reason to share information is still the most important one. Knowledge sharing helps everyone do their jobs better. 

For people with answers to share: 

Dreading all the how-to guides in your future? Don’t. 🙂 Equally important: don’t create them manually! Tango makes documentation easy, fast, and fun—so you get the relief of getting it done, along with the gratification of helping the people around you succeed.

For people with questions to ask:

Can’t find the answers where you need them, when you need them? Tired of context-switching, wasting energy searching for help, and having to interrupt people? 🤦 There’s a simple solution: Real-Time Guidance. Tango makes it easy for you to get into get sh*t done mode—and find answers fast, in the flow of your work, with built-in insights from peers. 


What are examples of information silos?

At an individual level, knowledge hoarding is an example of an information silo. At a team level, using different software to manage customer data often leads to information silos.

What are information silos in the workplace?

Information silos emerge in the workplace when relevant knowledge, experience, or insights aren’t accessible to all. They can occur when individuals or groups withhold information, use different software or systems, or don’t communicate effectively.

Why are information silos a problem for organizations?

Information silos are problematic for organizations because they limit collaboration, communication, and knowledge sharing. The domino effect is significant when it comes to misinformation, decision-making, productivity, morale, and the need to adapt to change.

What are examples of silo mentality?

Silo mentality can show up when someone on a team figures out a way to streamline a process but doesn’t share it with a teammate. Silo mentality can also manifest in a lack of information shared between departments. For example, when a sales team neglects to share customer feedback on a product with the product development team, which impacts their ability to better understand customer needs.

Keep in touch

We'll never show up
empty-handed (how rude!).

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
This is some text inside of a div block.