Silos Launch Missiles
A dictionary search for the term silo revealed: 1) a trench, pit, or tall cylinder used for making and storing silage; 2) an underground structure for housing a guided missile.
Of the two choices, it seems to me the second definition may best fit silo as used in business jargon—after all, in business, silos operate as if in a deep hole, they are difficult to penetrate and if their content is launched, they are capable of great damage.
When Silos Launch Their Missiles—Real World Examples
Catherine, a seasoned executive, worked in a very silo-ed organization. She said: “It is difficult to summarize the impact. Functional silos do NOT promote teamwork and they actually cost a company more from an infrastructure standpoint (lots of duplication of both personnel and facilities).
“Talent is not always used to the best advantage of the company as a whole. We had a divisional president that would not allow any of his more senior leaders to be considered for promotional opportunities in other divisions, so the good ones would eventually just leave the company.
“Also, our functional leaders tend to be friendly competitors in more public eyes, but behind the scenes, they have an “I don’t care about you” attitude toward their peers. That attitude is seen by the people in the organization and can permeate many levels—the outcome, predictably is internal conflict, zero innovation and less than desired business results.”
Jacques, the CFO of a Life Sciences company lamented: “Concerning my experience of a team working in functional silos, I definitively experienced that in the past. This created a lot of sub optimization as each function was working hard to do it best to be successful at the function level, but not for the company. In those cases the resource allocation was optimized within each silo without making sure that it was the best allocation for the company.
“Another negative side is that silos create a lot of difficulties to implement the overall strategy where multiple actions must be delivered by multi-functional teams.”
A senior executive in the Financial Industry said; “Silo behavior seems to stem from a lack of trust and confidence. For whatever reason, I often see silo behavior where politics and personal ambition are a little out of control. Managers go so far as to instruct their people not to trust other personnel and leaders from other functions and then forbid them to share information. This is the typical “us vs. them” mentality that can really turn a company or a team sideways.
Why Do Silos Exist?
When silos exist in an organization typically it is because trust is absent; it’s because “me” trumps “we”; it’s because we overlook values such as teamwork and respect; or it’s because we’re not aligned in what we’re trying to do….”
The why is the easier part. Because silos are the impenetrable dark holes from which lethal missiles are launched, the challenge is: What are you going to do about them?