When we hear the term networking, most of us think of making connections with people outside our sphere to find our next career opportunity or a new client or customer. We don’t tend to think about “internal” networking – networking within an organization to improve organization effectiveness through communication and collaboration.

Internal networking is a simple concept that’s difficult  to implement  because of the functional and hierarchical silos prevalent in most organizations.  Silos exist  in the private sector, the public sector, in large organizations, and in small ones, resulting in  the inability to communicate and collaborate effectively up, down, and across the organization.

Silos happen naturally. They exist because it is human nature to bring order to chaos. We do this in our work worlds by putting jobs, processes, and communication into boxes.

What if organizations were able to make these silos less like concrete barriers and more like membranes – permeable, allowing communication to flow freely and collaboration to be as natural as breathing. There is strong evidence that doing this can yield huge benefits.

  • Employees with extensive face-to-face networks are roughly twice as productive as people who keep to themselves or communicate only via email.[i]
  • Workplace collaboration can increase successful innovation by 15 percent.[ii]
  • Internal networking boosts job satisfaction and the desire to remain in a position, remarkably reducing the likelihood of turnover by 140 percent.[iii]
  • On average, when product development specialists teamed up across three different business units, revenue from their customers was 160 percent higher than the sum of their individual sales in the prior year.[iv]
  • Cost savings when employees share knowledge effectively through open communication is estimated, among Fortune 500 companies, to be $31.5 billion a year.[v]
  • Concepts developed by teams of three or more people had 156 percent greater appeal to consumers than did those created by a team of two or a single individual.[vi]


In order to establish permeability in functional and hierarchical silos, organizations must make internal networking an essential business process. This requires the use of silo-busting networking skills: curiosity, connection, and purpose.


Curiosity is the strong desire to know things. Employees with curiosity learn about what’s going on throughout  the organization, looking for “stretch” opportunities.

Connection is the ability to see the world through others’ eyes. It’s the ability to build and maintain a network of relationships with colleagues throughout the organization, no matter their background or position.

Purpose is an intention or aim; a reason for doing something or allowing something to happen. It’s understanding what drives overall organization results and how one can contribute to them.

Curiosity, connection, and purpose – the skills that enable people to pass through functional and hierarchical silos – must become part of the organization’s culture. And culture change must start at the top. Larry Senn, the chair of Senn Delaney , and Jim Hart, Senn Delaney’s president and CEO, call this concept “the shadow of the leader.” They contend that only when the top team lives and breathes the culture changes it wants and expects from its organization will such changes succeed – and stick.[vii]

It takes silo-busting leaders at the top of the organization to make cross-functional, cross-discipline teams a cultural norm. By doing so they send the clear message, “This is how we want you to get things done.”

Silo-busting senior leaders demonstrate curiosity. They show they value inquisitive minds by hiring and promoting managers with high levels of curiosity. They demonstrate the importance of seeking answers by asking questions. They encourage staff to be curious about their colleagues’ work and ways of doing business.

Silo-busting senior leaders are role models for connecting. They set an example by building and maintaining a network of relationships to connect and stay connected with colleagues above, below, and at their peer level throughout the organization. They acknowledge, engage, and get to know others, no matter their background or position in the organization. They connect staff with colleagues who have complementary expertise and from whom they can learn. They hire and promote managers who relate to and empathize with the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of others.

Finally, silo-busting senior leaders act with purpose, communicating intent and ensuring everyone understands the results the business is aiming for. They promote a high level of cooperation across diverse work groups, enabling information sharing and collective decision making. They focus on big projects that call for integration across functions, business units, and/or geographic boundaries. They discourage competition and encourage cooperation through shared goals.

In short, silo-busting leaders model effective networking skills. They seek knowledge and the perspectives of others. They set a high priority on building strong relationships, with their team and with stakeholders throughout the business. And they align their actions with the greater purpose of the organization, inspiring people to work together to achieve meaningful objectives. Incorporating these networking behaviors into leadership practices can result in greater productivity, increased successful innovation, lower turnover, and overall better organizational performance.

About the Author

Patricia Schaeffer: Pat is co-founder of Talent Strategy Partners, a consulting practice that helps companies maintain a robust leadership pipeline through succession planning and leadership development. She also co-founded Silo-Busting Networking, practitioners whose mission is to ignite employee’s ability to create strategic networks that break down obstacles to growth, productivity, communication, and collaboration.

She has contributed articles to the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (HR Pulse Magazine), Association for Talent Development (TD Magazine), Chief Learning Officer Magazine, World at Work (Workspan magazine), among others. Topics have included organizational culture, silo-busting networking, and training and development.

Pat is Chair of the Compensation Committee of the Board of Trustees of Springpoint Senior Living, a leader in senior housing and care; a Trustee of Tabby’s Place, a cat sanctuary; part of the Membership Committee Leadership Team for Beacon, a premier executive networking organization; and serves on panels for the Advisory Network for Small Business. Pat is also a member of Philly SHRM’s Thought Leadership Team. Contact Information: Patricia Schaeffer, Talent Strategy Partners LLC, (http://www.talentstrategypartners.com/), pschaeffer@tsphr.com, (215) 275-7430

Editor: Dennis Paris

Becoming a Philly SHRM Thought Leader

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[i] Waber, Ben. 2013. People Analytics: How Social Sensing Technology Will Transform Business and What It Tells Us About the Future of Work. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: FT Press.

[ii] PGi, a company that offers solutions for online meetings and large-scale events, from their report on workforce collaboration.

[iii] Porter, Caitlin M., Ang Eun Woo, and Michael A. Campion. 2015. Internal and external networking differentially predict turnover through job embeddedness and job offers. Personnel Psychology 69, no. 3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283951822_Internal_and_External_Networking_Differentially_Predict_Turnover_Through_Job_Embeddedness_and_Job_Offers (accessed August 17, 2020).

[iv] Gardner, Heidi K. 2017. Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

[v] International Data Corp., cited in Not sharing knowledge costs Fortune 500 companies $31.5 Billion a Year. Nuclino. November 27, 2018, Not sharing knowledge costs Fortune 500 companies $31.5 billion a year(accessed August 17, 2020). See also Myers, Christopher G. Is your company encouraging employees to share what they know? Harvard Business Review. November 6, 2015. Is your company encouraging employees to share what they know?(accessed August 17, 2020).

[vi] Nielsen. How Collaboration Drives Innovation Success: A Benchmark Study on Collaboration Ideation and Its Impact on Innovation Performance. March 18, 2015. How collaboration drives leadership success (accessed August 17, 2020).

[vii] Hart, Jim and Senn, Larry. Excerpted by SmartBrief from the Heidrick & Struggles report The transformation mandate: Leadership imperatives for a hyperconnected world. What leadership shadow do you cast?