Breaking Down Campus Silos

We tend to stay away from the word ‘silo’ even though we know they exist at many institutions – no organization is immune – silos exist in all types of environments.

The Oxford dictionary defines the term silo as, “A system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from others.”

Many student affairs professionals believe that the silo mentality presents many challenges that create deep divides between departments and groups of staff members and faculty on campuses. Often these divides are because of offices being physically spread out from each other and sometimes it’s due to difference of opinion, a failed cross-departmental project, misunderstandings, not enough time, or just the way business has always been done.

As we continue to interact with students who need support in diverse ways, it’s arguably one of the most important times in student affairs history to break down these silos and come together to support one another.

Naming Silos

Particularly as a team leader (VPSA, Dean, Director) there are benefits in identifying and naming the reasons why there are silos to begin with. Let’s face it: silos are really just a term for barriers we’ve intentionally or unintentionally created and we’re all aware of them in some way.

As a manager of people, it’s nice to know you have the ability to prevent potential headaches down the line and create a high functioning team by removing barriers.

Naming silos is an activity that could be done solo or with a team. This way, you get more ideas and perspectives in breaking them down more effectively. Creating a unified vision of collaboration is vital for sustaining a healthy student life team (including students who are supported under it).

Benefits of identifying and naming silos (barriers) include:

Gaining valuable insight to employee culture and campus culture. In order to create tight knit professional community, it’s important to listen to experiences that you wouldn’t have come across by yourself. You’ll learn new things about other offices that will spark new ideas for future projects and programs.

Building a stronger campus strategy. Working together with people from other departments is key to developing a holistic perspective, rather than solely relying on professionals who may exhibit bias in decision-making around the work they do everyday. At the end of the semester or the end of the year, you can describe how this approach has strengthened specific areas (i.e. student activities and the division at large).

Creating more buy-in. Creating an ‘ask’ for that new software or new project is much easier when you have cohesive relationships across campus.

Once the culture of silos exist, it sometimes seems impossible to break them down effectively. However, if this mentality is held onto, things will never change.

Building on the strategy of naming silos, it’s important to create some goals so that you can effectively break down silos over time. Here are some tried-and-true practices to consider implementing:

Shadowing Colleagues

At the minimum, it helps to get to know your colleagues better and what really makes them show up for work everyday. It puts your fellow colleague in the role of teacher. Shadowing becomes a great way to truly understand what coworkers day-to-day looks like. It increases empathy and compassion for the team at large.

Shadowing colleagues helps you become more efficient at your job. Every position at a institution, specifically within a division or department works in tandem with each other. When you understand the demands and to-do items of your co-workers, it helps you understand how to do your job and best support them at the same time.

When you start to accomplish items on your to-do list, you realize that all of the actions you take impact the team in some way. This boosts mindfulness in how you approach work.

Utilizing Video Calls

A unique way I’ve seen student affairs professionals break down barriers and increase productivity is the utilization of video calls such as Google Hangout, Skype, and Facetime.

When used in the right way, video chatting provides a space for professionals to check-in with colleagues in other offices more efficiently. With a large group of professionals, it can also help cut down on meeting times and streamline meetings by reducing distractions.

Video chatting colleagues from across campus can be just as effective (if not more effective) than meeting in person. In the age of technology, it allows for more sharing and breaks down some of the barriers of communication that exist.

Particularly for larger institutions or teams, it can be used during inclement weather or institutions that have multiple campuses where professionals find themselves commuting back and forth during the day.

For example, with Google Hangout (it’s free) there may be participants that are going to miss the meeting and instead of sending over detailed notes you could ask everyone’s permission to record the call and share it after the meeting. This way nothing is missed and they can hear the whole conversation. During the meeting, you can do things like screen share documents or the agenda, stream it using a mobile device if you’re on the go, and open and edit documents as a group.

With video chatting being relatively simple to use, it isn’t hard to train co-workers on use and implementation. If everyone is on-board to create increased efficiency, you can work towards breaking down some of the toughest barriers around communication.

Your Thoughts!

Silos ultimately create stop energy to collaborate with other departments. If we approach these barriers head-on we have the opportunity to incorporate voices that aren’t usually a part of the campus conversation.

The challenge for professionals who want change within the organization will be taking the time to understand the steps that your department or student life division needs to take.

What are some ways you’ve started to break down silos?

How might you take some of these suggestions and implement them? What would that look like for your team?

Share your thoughts, opinions, and comments with @CheckImHere & @kayleyrobsham. Thanks for reading!


Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham (she/hers) is a former Community Engagement Manager at Modern Campus Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.