Many organizations suffer from silo sickness. Is yours one of them? No organization is immune; I have worked with both non-profit organizations and for-profit corporations which were severely afflicted by the debilitating effects of silo sickness. I write this, however, to bring you good news: there is a People First leadership vaccine that will forever inoculate your organization from the injurious, sub optimizing effects of silo sickness.
If you have ever driven through America’s Midwest, you can’t help but notice the giant grain silos that punctuate the landscape. These huge cylindrical structures were built to separate different grains from one another. Business consultants have employed the term silo as an apt metaphor for departments and business units within an organization which behave as if they were just as self-contained, independent, and disconnected from one another as the silos in the Corn Belt.
Used in corporate conversation, the phrase silo mentality is heavily freighted with negative connotation. An organization is not designed to function like a grain silo in Kansas, and thus a company is ill-served when silos begin to spring up within. Corporate silos create barriers between departments and business units which can grow to be as steep and as impenetrable as the massive steel cylinders that house grain. Left unchecked, these barriers mark the boundaries of disconnected, vertical business units which ultimately weaken the overall strength of the organization and frustrate every attempt to create synergistic outcomes. Silo thinking is a philosophy of failure. Its acceptance as a viable business model is the harbinger of accelerating decline for any organization.
Organizational silos often become very strong and self-sufficient. The more well-developed the silo, the more deeply mired it becomes in insular thinking and turf protection. Moreover, this independent growth creates a self-reinforcing belief among the silo’s residents that communication and collaboration with other business units will only impede their own segregated development. These notions are tragically false; the more optimized a business silo becomes, the more sub-optimized the overall organization becomes.
It is important to note that the individual business unit (the silo) may be functioning very efficiently. However, organizational sub-optimization necessarily occurs when individual departments and business units no longer honor, support, and value one another’s interdependent purposes; at this point they begin behaving at cross-purposes. Worse still, silo thinking, in order to maintain its insular, elitist reality must ignore the goals and downplay the value of other departments and business units. This devaluation cripples the organization, due to the mistrust that is fostered between departments. The old adage, “The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” inevitably becomes an oppressive, distrusting, dis-empowering, discouraging reality for all internal and external customers.
For more information on organizational silo sickness and the People First approach to curing it, you can read our whitepaper here.