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Silos Belong on the Farm

March 30, 2011

I grew up in Wisconsin where, contrary to popular belief, we did NOT all live on dairy farms and raise cows.  (note – apparently this is my week for blog posts referencing my Wisconsin upbringing).  However, I certainly had quite a bit of exposure to farms – driving to and from my college in central WI and taking regular trips to the outskirts of the suburb in which I lived brought me face-to-face with the pastoral life. And tickled the nose, if you know what I mean.

I saw the gorgeous lush fields, the majestic herds of docile dairy cows grazing in the fields and random chickens and ducks wandering aimlessly.  At sunset, if that’s when I happened to be driving past, I glimpsed the setting sun peeking from behind the silos skirting the perimeter of the farm.

Now that’s the perfect place for silos.  Because they DON’T belong in an organization.

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We say corporate silos exist when we’re working to define isolation in an organization.  We toss about the term when we have teams, departments and sub-units operating independently of each other without any connection or communication.  They’re often woefully unaware of what others are doing, or, even more dangerously, have no CONCERN about what others are doing.

So how does this happen?  How do these silos get built?

Sometimes there’s an element of control.  Managers, for example, who wish to build their kingdom and then protect their turf.   So they do things such as create convoluted processes which they then enforce.  No one understands WTH anything accomplishes but everyone learns they better do it anyway.

Occasionally, organizations inadvertently create silos by hiring lots and lots of subject matter experts who all control their spot on the board game.  They don’t overlap
nor are they encouraged to do so.  Byron stores everything about subterranean particles in HIS brain, and Janice retains everything about cosmic toaster crumbs in HER brain…yet they never connect to bring an idea, goal or vision to fruition.

You know you’ve worked in a silo when you’ve had to approach projects or new tasks with little to no idea of the scope or impact.  You’ve BTDT when you’ve worked diligently to complete assignments only to find out that no one really needed the end result. You’ve built and maintained your own silo when you don’t pay attention to organizational initiatives other than those within your own department or function.

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So BUST down those walls.  Build some cross-functional teams; get out there and talk to each other.  Leaders – don’t let your managers build internal kingdoms.

Get rid of the silos; we’re not on a farm.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 30, 2011 8:35 am

    What a great fun way of writing about something that we all (surely we all??) hate! Your observation about a lack of concern for what others are doing is very powerful. And I want to learn a lot more about cosmic toasters and their crumbs.

    I didn’t grow up in Wisconsin but I did travel to Green Bay with a good friend many moons ago. Sadly the Pack got whupped by the Vikings but the friendly people of Green Bay ensured we had a lot of fun. Wisconsin, and now cosmic toasters too have a special place in my heart.

    Loved reading this – thanks

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