I could build a farm if I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve heard, and have myself used, the line of thought that “Our organization is sooooo SILOED and dysfunctional. Nobody cares about anybody else.”
I adopted this corporate buzzword years ago with nary a second thought, content to let the image of large barnyard grain storage bins do the work of fully describing an organization’s communication, morale, or production woes.
The more I think about this term, though, the more I realize that it’s built on several tenuous assumptions:
- That everyone in the silo made a conscious decision to be in it.
- That all of them are equally content to stay in it.
- That all siloed employees actually believe that their actions don’t have a tangible effect on the rest of the organization, and have taken specific steps to insulate themselves from everyone else around them.
- That all silo-dwellers are equally selfish and so totally wrapped up in their own needs that they have neither the time nor the ability to recognize the needs of another area or the company.
My problem with silo imagery, and the assumptions underneath it, is that it basically reduces whole teams of people to narcissistic self-absorbed loons.
I prefer instead to think of organizational struggles and challenges in terms of blinders.
Blinders, regardless of who or what is wearing them, are used with the intent of blocking out some, but not all, of the outside world. They acknowledge the fact that the wearer isn’t operating in a vacuum yet must, at some point, reserve some part of their focus on meeting their goals and objectives. Blinders at once respect the needs of an interconnected environment while trying to manage the stresses that come with it.
We all wear blinders, whether we know it or not. We close our doors, block out our calendars, say “no” to one vendor in order to say “yes” to another, prioritize, promote, coach, counsel, fire, hire, and produce precisely because we can only run through one finish line at a time. And when we run through the tape and celebrate, everything is great (Dr. Seuss just called – he wants that sentence back). We start throwing around silo-speak when we finish last, or don’t finish at all.
Just because another team’s need competes with yours, or they crossed their finish line before you, doesn’t mean that you’ve got silos. It means you’ve got folks who have goals they have to meet as well.
The other failing of silo imagery is that it assumes everyone in it is inert and content to stay where they are. For the most part, nothing could be further from the truth.
They’re all running a race – just the same as you. Maybe we should find out where their finish line is, and get acquainted with what they must ignore in order to get there, before locking them away in a hollow tube of our own narrow-minded thinking.