Hyper-Efficiency Leads to Silos?

You've probably heard someone talking about breaking down silos. I actually used the term myself recently so picked-up Gillian Tett's The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers

Silos are what happens when groups within companies, either due to specialization or a bad culture, do not share or communicate with other groups. This leads to problems such as the financial meltdown of 2008 and Sony's demise. I won't go into the details (nor can I do it the justice Gillian did), but her stories on how silos lead to these and other problems is riveting reading.

The first half of the book describes these companies and how internal silos lead to their problems; the second half explains how a few companies are actively fighting the creation of silos. Facebook is an example of the latter, as is an experiment successfully run in a Chicago police station to predict and thereby lower their increasing murder rate.

At the heart of these silo-busting experiments is structuring the organization, the pay, and the physical space so that people are encouraged to collaborate. Another common theme is that by sharing data across groups not only will redundancy and internal competition be eliminated, but surprising patterns may be discovered when all the data is reviewed as a whole. 

Gillian ends the book acknowledging that in a world that is becoming more complex and specialized, and where everyone is expected to become more efficient, silo-busting may seem contrarian. She argues that although spending time talking to people and ensuring data is shared may not seem to be an effective use of time, it is well worth avoiding the potential troubles that come along with silos.

What this means for all of us is that in addition to doing your job well, it is equally important to build relationships with peers in other groups and in other functions. Efficiency and effectiveness can only get you so far, but collaboration and communication are well worth the effort. You never know what a conversation will lead to or what idea it can inspire, nor what others are working on that could be of benefit to your group.

Does your company have silos? How can you ensure a more healthy sharing of information?

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