Silo mentality is one of the biggest hurdles for today’s knowledge workers. It’s one thing to have to parse the oceanic amounts of information not only in an organization’s intranet. (Then think about adding the web to that equation.) It’s another when the information needed exists in someone else’s head.

A year-long study of more than 100 global businesses found that 80% of respondents say “strongly pronounced” team silos negatively impact their company’s costs, innovation potential, culture, and profitability. Only 54% had made breaking silos a top priority, and only 20% report having the right measures in place. 

What’s interesting about the study though is that they cite “bad silos,” which hints at the idea of “good silos.” What are organizational silos, how are they affecting your employees, and how can you ensure that “good silos” take root in your company? It might be surprising to know, but that same intranet we mentioned above is a great place to start. Let’s dig in.

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What Is Silo Mentality?

Silo mentality, also known as organizational silos, is when multiple teams, departments, or other groups within an organization don’t share information. These workplace silos happen organically as a result of implementing structure throughout a company’s lifetime. 

As different teams are formed to autonomously handle different functions throughout an organization, it’s only natural that they separate. However, this leads to prioritizing departmental goals over an organization’s overall shared goal and deters cross-functional collaboration benefits.

It’s not surprising that departmental silos exist even today in our seemingly hyper-connected world. The mass adoption of flexible work and asynchronous communication, coupled with an ever-expanding toolset to help employees improve their productivity and proficiency, changes how work happens every day. Helping to synthesize large amounts of information into actionable knowledge is a major use case for generative AI models like ChatGPT.

Image visualizes siloed search
Image visualizes siloed search

Why Silo Mentality Happens

It’s true that organizational silos can inhibit collaboration and even lead to turf wars between employees. But they also exist to aggregate expertise, assign accountability, and provide a sense of identity. 

Olivier Serrat, a researcher in the field of organizational leadership and author of Knowledge Solutions: Tools, Methods, and Approaches to Drive Organizational Performance, states that siloed teams are often the result of “earnest attempts to identify the right business issues, pinpoint the right underlying obstacles, adopt the right design characteristics, and implement change the right way.” 

He describes silos as growing out of something left undone — “provision of compelling motives, means, and opportunities for personnel to come together.” Companies that wish to preserve the good intentions of silos while minimizing negative effects have to think carefully about bridging gaps between teams. 

For example, in this year’s Workplace Relevance Report, we found that 89% of respondents search between 1 and 6 sources to find needed information to do their jobs — an increase of 7 points from last year. (If that’s how difficult it is for your employees, imagine what kind of customer experience you’re offering.)

Image shows a chart from the Coveo Workplace Relevance Report 2023 stating hat 89% of respondents search between 1 and 6 data sources in order to do their job
Image shows a chart from the Coveo Workplace Relevance Report 2023 stating hat 89% of respondents search between 1 and 6 data sources in order to do their job

One helpful solution is to embrace an effective, if likely, under-utilized tool: effective intranet search. 

Intranet Search: Breaking Silo Mentality And Building Effective Communication

An intranet can be much more than just a homepage for company announcements or helping HR give multiple teams a heads up that open enrollment is on the horizon. 

Unfortunately, intranets were created for many to consume content and few to create it. There is a tremendous amount of content on intranets today, particularly “unstructured content.” As such, many have become a content graveyard for employees rather than the vibrant and knowledge-sharing community they can be.

Instead, intranets are most impactful when they are connected to content repositories that employees use regularly, even daily. Exposing that content can be done effectively with intranet search.

Now you can use your intranet to bridge information gaps useful in training, employee onboarding, or even customer support. It’s possible to even provide information the searcher didn’t know existed, such as when a related document pops up for a particular query.

Traditional, keyword-based intranet search is not powerful enough to help employees sift through content to find the relevant insights they need.

Image visualizes unified search
Image visualizes unified search

When intranet search is powered by a unified index that leverages artificial intelligence (AI), information becomes more widely available. Within reason, of course — that index needs to surface information that abides by role and access permissions

Enabling this level of centralized access to information encourages cross-team collaboration. When sales can access product development documentation, they may be more likely to address customer concerns at the point of sale. The same goes for customer agents who now have access to the marketing materials; they can see the actual promotion that enticed a new customer before trying to address a billing concern.

Most importantly, it empowers employees to access critical information when they need it most. Instead of running customer complaints “up the ladder” or relying on a manager to return an email, they can respond to issues before they become big problems. Unified search can be a vital aid in case resolution, significantly impacting your case escalation management results.

Intranet search is a powerful collaboration tool for combating information silos, when wielded effectively. The following are best practices to create an experience that empowers employees to do their best work, and row together toward collective company goals. 

Involve your employees in the design process 

Your employees are the ones using your intranet, and they ultimately determine its success or failure. So it makes sense to involve them early in the planning process to make sure you’re delivering the right improvements to increase engagement.

Designing a modern intranet requires an understanding of how your employees work, what their information requirements are, and how they interact with the various applications used within your enterprise. 

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Implement intelligent search algorithms

Because the AI understands employees’ intent and needs when searching for information, AI-powered search on the intranet presents relevant information in context and in the flow of work to your employees. The result? They can do more on their own with less effort. 

Image visualizes the same query surfacing different results depending on the user searching
Image visualizes the same query surfacing different results depending on the user searching

The technology connects the ecosystem of record, makes information findable & searchable from wherever it is located, and then continually learns and improves to ensure that the best information is available to every person, every time. This enables every employee to share and consume knowledge, depending on their context, information needs, and access level.

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Utilize natural language processing (NLP) for better results

When performing an internet search, most users aren’t using sophisticated language – or even the language of the colleague in the same position sitting next to them. Thankfully, sophisticated search using NLP doesn’t need them to. 

They can type in fragments of words, casual uses of language, or synonyms for things, and the search tool understands what they intended. It can even fill in the gaps when they can’t come up with the proper word and suggests it for them.

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Integrate AI-driven search assistants

Bing, Bard, and ChatGPT are changing expectations of search. So, why is navigating tech at work so cumbersome? Companies have an opportunity to build some of the same digital assistant culture into the workplace through AI-powered helpers.

These technologies, whether used in the search tool itself or on the results page, can help employees call up answers to their questions in the same way they would in their kitchen or car. Just remember, the concept of user-friendly still applies.

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Encourage user-generated metadata and knowledge sharing

There may be nothing more inefficient than having someone who knows little about day-to-day operations create the taxonomy for your workforce documentation. (And yet, that’s exactly what’s happening at companies today.)

Why not have the people who use the documentation tag it in real time? They are the best judges of what’s useful and how these knowledge assets can be best utilized. With the incentive to make their knowledge base more representative of their actual pain points, they may be willing to put in that small amount of additional work and sort documents in a way that makes sense to them.

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Use analytics to improve the employee experience

Although machine learning optimizes your intranet search engine automatically over time, some ongoing analysis is still required if you want to deliver the best company intranet experience for engaged employees.

That’s because some of the content your employees are searching for might not actually exist yet anywhere in your organization.

Image visualizes a user interacting with search analytics
Image visualizes a user interacting with search analytics

By leveraging intranet search analytics, you quickly can identify where your employees are getting stuck in their search for information. Content owners then can work to plug these gaps and increase the likelihood of a successful search session.

Success Story: Dell Breaks Silos with Effective Intranet Search

Cross-collaboration and accessible data aren’t just a pie-in-the-sky promise. Companies are using Coveo’s improved intranet search capability to supercharge their internal processes.

Before using Coveo, Inside Dell was the company’s lowest scoring enterprise application for employee satisfaction with an average ESAT score of 23%. Like at many organizations, the intranet was an under-invested technology, caught in a multi-year upgrade cycle that was more aligned with maintenance contracts than user needs.

Screenshot shows the Dell intranet, Inside Dell Technologies
Screenshot shows the Dell intranet, Inside Dell Technologies

Post launch, ESAT scores climbed from 23% to over 60%, recording the most significant quarterly jump ever by an IT application at Dell and taking home the prize of most improved application each quarter in its first year of operation.

This partnership is still evolving, as Dell knows that unified intranet search is an ongoing project. After seeing quantifiable impacts on productivity and collaboration, the company is ready to move into the future with a holistic view of its customers and internal stakeholders.

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Adopt Enhanced Intranet Search for Effective Collaboration

While the user may still think of search as typing in a box, the technology running behind the scenes will keep getting smarter and more adaptable. Advancements in AI and machine learning will give employees access to information that was previously siloed and hard to reach. Additionally, they  will see more usable and personalized results for their individual use cases.

Image visualizes the slack logo as a company intranet
Image visualizes the slack logo as a company intranet

Look for improved integration with the communication and collaboration tools already in use by today’s in-office and remote workforces, too. (You can even turn Slack into your intranet!) From Slack to Salesforce, the integrations employees know and love can get “smarter” with amplified search capabilities. Employees will continue engaging with the tech tools in their workflows but see improved results over time.

As you add more employees, rather than investing more and more time into manual tuning, AI-powered search will automatically deliver the most relevant content to each employee. With an intranet infused with AI-powered search, you can expect more rapid collaboration to create faster new product development cycles, shorter time-to-market for new products, and more successful new product launches.

Dig Deeper

Employees expect more from their workplaces. Not just better pay, benefits, and a more flexible work schedule — even before the transition to a hybrid work model brought new challenges to workplace collaboration, workers were bombarded with information from multiple SaaS platforms daily.

In our free guide, learn how artificial intelligence can help you retain and develop top talent by providing empowered employee experiences. 

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