Webster defines silo as: 1) a trench, pit, or tall cylinder used for making and storing silage; 2) an underground structure for housing a guided missile.
It seems to me the second definition best fits silo as used in business jargon—after all, in business, silos operate alone in a deep hole, they are in the dark about what’s going on around them and they are prone to damage the organization’s ability to achieve strategic goals.
Catherine, a seasoned executive, worked in a silo-ed organization. She said: “Functional silos do NOT promote teamwork. They cost a company more from an infrastructure standpoint (lots of duplication in personnel and facilities). Also, where silos exist, functional leaders have an ‘I don’t care about you’ attitude toward their peers. That attitude is seen by everyone—the outcome, predictably, is a lack of trust, internal conflict, zero innovation and less than desired business results.”
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 personnel and leaders from other functions and then forbid them from sharing information. This is the typical ‘us vs. them’ mentality that can really turn a company sideways.”
Silos are created in organizations when trust is lacking, where ‘me’ trumps ‘we.’ Silos happen because we neglect to live out such values as teamwork, respect, integrity, and humility which spawns a culture misaligned around organizational goals and objectives.
Good news: There is hope for every organization. Companies that embrace Values-Based Leadership minimize silo-ed behavior because they create an environment that fosters trust and they implement a system that empowers aligned action toward a compelling vision and shared goals.
Silos are impenetrable dark holes capable of much damage – the challenge is, what are you going to do about them?