I know – right ? Bear with me while I come in under cloud cover, and intercept your thinking with a different viewpoint. I am here to tell you that Silos in business are good. Take that as today’s ‘Signal Intercept From Low Orbit’.

In ‘another world’, a group of us were debating the topic of silos and one of my esteemed colleagues Davide Casali introduced the idea of ‘dynamic silos’. (By the way – do click on that link. he has a great blog absolutely brimming with great thoughts, opinions, comment and wisdom.) I liked that idea, so thought I might expand on his thinking – and explore how they might work.

In business we talk about ‘breaking down the silos’. And we have been talking about doing that for years. Decades even. In short silos are not seen as good, but for whatever reason – they stick around and just won’t go away.

And, silos are bad because why? Well, to quote Davide, they …

“..often translate to bureaucracy, lack of movement of people, lack of communication, decision making fatigue. “

He goes on to shed more light onto the challenge;

“Silos don’t exist due to will, they exist due to inherent limitation of human interactions and limitations. Even if criticized in its detailed form, even if technology helps extending the number to be higher, I think Dunbar’s Number as a general concept still applies: there’s a limited number of people we can actively network with in a productive way.

Today, we can try to automate more, use better communication tools, rely more on asynchronous mail communication, filters and so on. Yet, Maybe we can extend the 150 limit of Dunbar to 200, 300… maybe even 400 or 500 people… at some point, the silo will naturally form.

That’s why I feel we need to acknowledge in a sense how silos are inevitable. “

But there is light at the end of the tunnel, because Davide concludes;

“How do we manage this unescapable dynamic, in a way that doesn’t lock down people, communication, and businesses?

I think there’s nothing bad in creating a silo purposefully, knowing how it works, and then maybe dismantling it after a while. Shuffling silos is for example a strategy to work around this.”

We started organizing our businesses into silos long before Robin Dunbar was even born. Did we innately understand that, even though the theory had not been postulated?

The fact is we created the structures we needed at the time to help us better organize and manage functions in businesses that had become much larger than what we were used to. We did it by using the military as a model, because back then businesses started growing beyond the cottage industries that existed and we needed a way to manage thousands of people and to do that … the only known workable model that had any success was the military. And a couple of hundred years later it is still with us – and I am not just talking silos – after all how often do you hear military jargon like some of these one liners in your corporate hallways?

  • divide and conquer
  • take the hill
  • capture the market
  • war of words
  • war room
  • competition is laying in wait
  • plan of attack
  • boots on the ground
  • rules of engagement
  • shot in the dark
  • win the battle but lose the war
  • guerilla tactics
  • guerilla marketing
  • who’s our target
  • ambush the competition
  • establish a beachhead

We even have the people at the top called a ‘blah blah officer’ …. and we have departments called ‘operations’ … and that ‘corner office’ (ever wondered about the origins of the word office (other than that is where one might find an officer)?

Office:” from the Latin word ‘OFFICIUM’ meaning “service, duty, function”.

… and, just ‘down’ from the corner office is the ‘office with a window’, just across the hall from the ‘windowless office’ – but it’s still an office right? Not a cube with a door, or is that a personal cube, or a shared cube … Yes, hierarchy is alive and well in modern corporate.

I know not the truth of the following – but I heard it once said that “the proportion of the carpet to total floor size in a military office was directly proportional to their rank.” Maybe it’s apocryphal? Hopefully tho, nobody really suffers like this ….

Of course the military never organized themselves around the enemy (that’s ‘customer’ in business language), they ‘organized themselves’ to make it easier to ‘manage themselves’. And the best and easiest way to manage an organization back then was a top down, command and control set up where there are clear lines of authority.

By the way, that customer / enemy comparison is not offered lightly. Consider how much of traditional ‘corporate speak’ in business is at the very least ‘militaristic’, if not darn right ‘customer combative’. We all know that;

  • they want a larger and larger ‘share of our wallet’
  • they want to ‘drive’ us
  • they want to ‘convert’ us
  • they want to ‘acquire’ us
  • they want ‘loyalty’ from us

… you get the drift. But for some reason, we just accept the terminology, do nothing and allow them to ‘manage us’ on their terms. I kid you not – this just delivered to my inbox as I am writing this article.

‘Marketing Warfare Strategies In Today’s Business’

It’s an epidemic!

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JOHN'S career spans 30 years, 2 continents, and organizations as diverse as Oracle, Citibank and GE. A Mathematics graduate, John moved to California in 1990. He helps technology companies create, develop and deliver their story for fund raising, market development and influencer programs. He also works with businesses to ensure they understand, and are ready, for the ever accelerating changes that technology is bringing to their industry. John is a co-founder of Expert Alumni and gleXnet and long before futurists and industry watchers were writing about the impending challenges that industries were going to be facing, they predicted a perfect storm of issues like skills gap, declining work forces, the gig economy, people trained to do work no longer needed, demographic shifts, economic and social change, market upheaval and rapidly changing ways of doing work. From the beginning they have promoted the idea that massive change was coming to how organizations should think about their workforce, with a singular focus on simplifying the interface between people and their work. Understanding the challenges ahead of the curve, the solution was built to arrive at a better understanding of the greatest restraint to business operations - competence, not capital. gleXnet provides unparalleled insights into an organizations people and operations by flipping the problem from the perspective of people, not the business.
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Chris Pehura
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Chris Pehura

Totally awesome points. And in agreement. Anytime we complete organizational change to tear down the silos, silos would fracture and reform. We used to call it “whack a mole”.

Silos are good when you know where they are. This makes gap analysis easy because all problems, all gaps occur usually between the silos. Once we know the problems, we can easily make people accountable to address those problems.

There was one client who tore down all their silos and they reformed much lower in the organization. These silos not only impeded the delivery of projects, they created friction and bad blood between the teams. This drove over 20% of people in a department to leave.

dszuc
Member
dszuc

Why did it create friction?

Chris Pehura
Guest
Chris Pehura

There were quite a few missing pieces that exaggerated the impact of the silos and created friction at the lower levels of the organization.

1. Folks at the top chose the culture change aspects of organizational change as the primary method. Very little effort was placed on the formal processes and how they were linked through the organization. Silos were not addressed from the top.

2. Silos moved down deep into the work structure. Those that worked at that level had very little to no skills in how to integrate and change processes to complement the shift in silos. Workers received very little support from their management. Anytime they requested help, the were given a “rah-rah motivational speech.” This turned silos from speed bumps into vertical cliffs.

3. Executive management completely disregarded any concerns that escalated up the chain of command regarding these silos and unaddressed parts of core processes. Concerns were written as “undercurrent” and “irrational fear”. Many workers didn’t appreciate the criticism on top of that lack of help.

John Philpin
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John Philpin

thanks for coming over and the considered response Chris …. back in my citibank days we used a term – ‘the permafrost layer’ – at the top people knew the issues, recognized that they needed to move, to change and tried to make it happen. people in the lower levels of the organization … the front lines also knew things had to change and did their best but the permafrost layer embraced status quo – and essentially slowed down changes – if not stopped them altogether. my guess is that those were the people who THOUGHT they had more to lose personally, measuring their success by the size of the organizations – not by the success of their customers and overall organization they worked for.

dszuc
Member
dszuc

Self protection for self and selfish gain?

John Philpin
Guest
John Philpin

EXACTLY … and so easy to spot!

Chris Pehura
Guest
Chris Pehura

Here’s one of my favorite quotes, from the movie, “Men In Black”. It talks about people. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkCwFkOZoOY

When people have fear, their IQ points drop significantly leading to some really “nut bar” decisions. The top thing I always advocate is building certainty in the masses through various “levers”. Less fear means more smart people are available. This can lead to more certainty through leadership, communications, and credibility. More certainty means less politics. Less politics means more openness to talk about the hard topics. The more discussion, the more smoothly the change progresses.

John Philpin
Guest
John Philpin

Great quote – which I have captured for future use – thankyou

John Philpin
Guest
John Philpin

… and LOVE the clip … prescient !

dszuc
Member
dszuc

Thank you. So lack of support and care and compassion for the people and emotions present appears to be one of the core issues?

Daniel Szuc
Guest
Daniel Szuc

There can be silos of thinking, silos in small teams, silos in larger teams and larger organisations. So perhaps the key to this is, how do we practice not breaking silos, but encouraging the bridges between them and the activities to support the meetings on those bridges.

dszuc
Member
dszuc

Another consideration here is this – at what point do we get sucked into our own bubbles or silos or spaces etc, and what practices would help us be better practiced at challenging or discussing what we need to be working on and why. See – https://medium.com/make-meaningful-work/why-4cba31945f63

John Philpin
Guest
John Philpin

Clay Forsberg on Silos – just this morning ….

“We live in world infected with silos. And I don’t mean silos that hold corn and wheat. The obsession with specialization and being an expert has been thrust upon us for decades now. And it shows no signs of letting up. And no where is this more epidemic than in the medical field.”

https://clayforsberg.net/2017/08/15/an-open-letter-to-healthcares-c-suite/