My first experience with silos in business was in the early 1980s. I was working in a well-entrenched silo operation, though at the time I didn't realize what I had stumbled upon (or into). The name may have changed but I'm pretty sure silos have been around for a long time. How do these silos get a foothold, despite our universal displeasure with them?
A silo may start innocuously enough. Most businesses are divided into functional groups (departments) and while each group contributes to organization-wide goals, it is not difficult for any one department to become occupied with and focused on their own contributions. Even though we consciously recognize we can't achieve the business goals alone, it‘s the groups’ sense of purpose and importance that sets the stage for silo development.
It’s imperative that each department embraces their purpose but the matter of self-importance requires some careful attention. Sure, everyone needs to believe in themselves and their capabilities but in a business our goals are goals in common. You contribute your’ part and I mine. When a groups’ sense of importance takes precedence over these common goals, a silo is formed.
Once formed, a silo is a hard structure to dismantle. For those who helped to build it, it becomes a place of refuge. They are not likely to give it up very easily. Since a silo is not a concrete structure it’s often sensed rather than seen. The folks who suffer the silo effect (lack of cooperation and synergy needed to work in a dynamic and interactive environment) have a difficult time explaining themselves and since the inhabitants of the silo are diligent about their own activities/roles it’s hard to demonstrate that they are not performing.
Silos drive a deep wedge between one department and another. Before long other silos are created in response as a means of protecting the interests of the affected groups. Silos are like rabbits- one silo can breed a whole bunch of news ones (well OK, you get the idea).