A silo mentality is one of the evilest things that can happen to a manager. Well, that is what you are lead to believe when attending the average management workshop.
One of the first things people mention when asked what is wrong with their workplace is having a “silo mentality”. Organisational silos are evil, and everybody who tries to build one runs the risk of becoming a pariah. Personally, I think silos are inevitable and valuable—I designed some early in my career as shown in the picture above.
A silo mentality is so prevalent that a small vocabulary has built up around this phenomenon: ‘information silo’, ‘silo thinking’, ‘the silo effect’, ‘functional silo’ and so on. The language around removing silos is quite vigorous and evocative: silos need to be ‘demolished’, ‘blown up’ or ‘torn down’. Surely, any manager using this type of language is serious about his job!
This article proposes a more philosophical approach and gently deconstructs, not demolish or blow up, the concept of silo mentality to show that they are not as evil as many managers believe.
embrace silos to deliver value
There is no proper definition of what a silo mentality is. A recent paper suggests that people with silo mentality are mentally ill.1
Psychodynamically, silos represent the phallic characteristics of male dominance, submission and persecution. They are characterised by intra- and intergroup anxiety followed by the infantile and regressive defensive structures …
On a positive side, a functional silo is a vertically aligned team with experts in their respective fields. Silos shape expert knowledge communities that can reach consensus, make decisions and act efficiently and effectively. By embracing and nurturing functional silos, an agency’s expertise can flourish.2
Pointing at silos to identify why an organisation is not optimally functioning is a way to blame somebody else for your problems. Instead of wielding the silo, managers should practice some introspection and think about how they can improve communication with other experts in their organisation. Don’t blame somebody else for not wanting to cooperate with you, think of ways you can motivate them instead of using strong language and start demolishing, tearing down and blasting their silos.