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How does silo mentality impact organizational culture and risk?

Break down collaboration barriers to avoid the pitfalls of working in isolation

Noshin Khan
Ethics and Compliance, Associate Director
February 1, 2024

Teammates having a conversation around a meeting table.

A properly functioning ethics and compliance team is one of the primary gatekeepers of organizational culture, training, and policy. But they can’t do their job effectively if teams operate in silos that have their own subcultures and ways of working. Visibility and alignment up, down, and across the business are essential for those who spend their days ensuring company values are being followed, and local regulations adhered to. 

If you’re worried your organization may be more siloed than you’d like, keep reading for some best practices to adopt in 2024. It will take teamwork and buy-in from leadership to break down silos among your teams, but it’s possible to operate as a cohesive unit.

 

Understanding organizational silos and how they impact culture and risk

Silos exist within a company when communication breaks down between teams, departments, and different levels of hierarchy. Not only do different teams struggle to share information with each other, but they also stop collaborating across functional boundaries. Cross-functional collaboration benefits both customers and employees — but in a siloed organization, it doesn’t exist. 

From an ethics and compliance perspective, silos create risk. You can’t see how teams operate, so you don’t know whether they uphold company values, let alone comply fully with policies. Teams that operate independently from one another can form their own separate cultures, leading to behaviors that don’t align with the company’s code of conduct, making it that much harder to speak up about wrongdoings when you don’t know or can’t get a clear overview of a process. 

And managers who onboard vendors and third parties using their own process can create negative impacts that reverberate far beyond the boundaries of their team. 

Preventing silos from forming — and breaking them down if they already exist — is an ethics and compliance imperative.

 

How ethics and compliance teams can break down silos

Fortunately, the power to break down silos lies within the ethics and compliance team.

Bring new employees up to speed: Most companies have a code of conduct and a set of values every employee learns during onboarding. That's the kind of cross-organizational touchpoint few teams can replicate. Pick values that every employee can relate to and are easy to remember. With a direct and tangible connection to every employee, ethics and compliance can function as the connectors between disparate teams. Treat onboarding as a cross-functional exercise to establish relationships from the get-go. 

Connect teams through ethics training: All employees will likely undergo ethics and compliance training semi-regularly. Are there opportunities for employees from different groups to attend training together? A designated ethics and compliance ambassador can lead training, using the opportunity to connect teammates from different teams and business units. 

Set standards when working with outside parties: All teams will likely need to work with third parties, and it benefits the business for all teams to onboard and manage those relationships using the same process and set of policies. A unified third-party management process allows leaders from different functions to come together and create a comprehensive third-party lifecycle that works for all stakeholders across the business.  

Get leadership buy-in: Ensure leadership supports and promotes ethical behavior and compliance. Leaders should set an example and actively participate in initiatives aimed at breaking down silos and creating a strong team culture. 

Promote your helpline: Your company helpline might not be the first tool you reach for to break down silos, but it does offer a pulse check on culture. Ensure all employees know when, why, and how to use the helpline. It'll give insight into teams, trends, and otherwise opaque micro-cultures. A strong culture of feedback and information sharing will lead to more effective helplines and reduce the chance of informational silos forming.

Make disclosures more effective: A robust disclosure program provides many insights, especially for multinational companies. You'll discover that each location also has a specific culture, ethic, and way of working, thereby helping you harmonize the global culture and break down silos in different departments.

 

Using tech to build bridges across teams

Breaking down silos is a human process — but the right technology smooths the path. Ensure your ethics and compliance team uses intuitive employee engagement tools for learning, disclosures, policy management, and digital communication so that your team reinforces a reputation of being easy to work with. Interactive training, streamlined policies, and a trustworthy speak-up culture and visibility boost engagement and ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to ethics and compliance. 

Visibility across the company and a culture of collaboration are necessary elements for an ethics and compliance program to succeed at its fundamental goals. When silos prevent information sharing and create walled gardens within a company, risk blooms. It’s up to the compliance program to set the tone for collaboration and transparency — ensure that you have the right tools and expectations in place from dDay 1 of an employee’s relationship with the company.

Different teams have different priorities. Learn how OneTrust can help you proactively manage risk across the entire organization and get everyone on the same page. 


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