What is a silo anyway? It is a wall or boundary put up by an organization, business unit or group of persons for some reason. Silos may be formed for legitimate business purposes including mandatory, projects, competition as well as distracting or irregular activities. They can be formed because they are regulatory such as underwriters who are not able to speak with investors or because of financial reporting. Interest based silos may be formed for reasons like specific goals, exclusivity or privacy. Project based silos may form to focus solely on completing a specific project and can be intended to insulate from unsolicited input or distractions that can cause the team to miss the deliverable.
Silos can also form by choice as a result of affiliations including shared goals, interests, values or outcome. Many people may not even be aware they formed a silo and simply believe the fastest way to get things done is to just do it themselves. Silos occur in every corporation regardless of size and can be vertical (between management levels) as well as horizontal (between business units or departments).
There is a plethora of research claiming that silos must be brought down and some of the best managers spend a great deal of time breaking down those barriers. After all, collaboration reduces duplication of efforts, creates better outcomes and leverages expertise across the entire organization. Transparency that gives employees insights into what has worked ensures better decisions and it also ensures that everyone is working for the good of the overall organization. The silo may feel they are in competition with other departments and become secretive or distrustful particularly when their performance is subpar. Lastly, a siloed company may not act or react quickly to opportunities or threats.
However, if most silos are formed by an organization for a legitimate business purpose, do you want to break them down without first understanding how and why the silo was created and whether it is beneficial or detrimental to the organization?
Most leaders want certain beneficial results whether or not the organization formed silos. Most leaders want to create a transparent, collaborative and knowledgeable workforce. Good communication can make the difference because it allows information to flow in and out of the silo ensuring expertise is leveraged across the entire organization and may eliminate the secrecy and distrust.
In addition, before you break down the silo, it is important to answer some questions including whether the silo is mandatory, whether it serves a legitimate business purpose that can be articulated, whether it enables business, whether it is permanent or temporary and serves a limited purpose, whether the organization’s culture can handle transparency. Qualifying the value of a silo may not be possible and answering these questions is challenging but time spent analyzing this issue within your own organization may be very well worth the time.