“For those languishing at the bottom of a silo, there may be no way out.” This was the chilling conclusion of The Economist’s review of the book ‘The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers’ by Gillian Tett.
There is little doubt in our minds that silos and silo mentality are among the worst afflictions of organizations today. Why do they even exist?
Silos are the hangover of a mechanistic, command and control worldview that is out of date. Faced with a multiplicity of inputs, the reaction is to try and control them by breaking them up into smaller “pieces”. The assumption here is that by breaking a big situation up into smaller pieces, more control can be exerted over every piece. This is a very flawed assumption. It completely ignores the reality of the complexity and the network-based understanding we now have of nature.
In a silo organization, resources are spread across different ‘departments’ or ‘functions’. When an organization is fragmented in this way and its measurement system is geared up to reflect those fragments, then each department tries to protect its local optima. This means that there is little incentive to share resources and collaborate, because there will be no recognition or reward for that behavior. Everyone is protecting their own turf. There is no sense of the resources working towards a common goal because it is hard to see beyond the artificial barriers of silos to a place where everybody’s efforts are recognized. This alone is enough to stifle innovation and create artificial delays in the delivery of any project.
“To escape cultural silos, people should question everything”
This is another conclusion of The Economist’s review, and we agree. The only hope for organizations today is in their ability to develop their cognitive skills. The crises we face today are a manifestation of a lack of systemic analysis and thinking. Leaders need to be able take the time to challenge all the assumptions that keep them stuck, find systemic solutions and take action in the direction of those solutions. They need to break down barriers by redesigning their organizations systemically for complexity.
Fortunately, we have alternatives and we’ll be looking at this further in future posts. The mental and operational technology exists, it’s there for all those with the courage and foresight to use it. We have nothing to lose but our silos.
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About the Blog Author and Editor
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint that has sold in over 20 countries. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.