The “Silo” Effect – Take the Time to Prevent Silos

By Diane Shepard-Hill

The word “silo” sounds a lot like the word “solo.” Not only do these words sound alike, they have similar meanings. Silo is defined as a standalone structure for storage that can be attached to another structure. Unfortunately, so many silos stand alone and don’t get attached to anything else. Solo is defined as doing a task alone, singular or by one self, flying solo. In this article, The “Silo” Effect will discuss standalone departments in an organization that store information.

The Campaign Mistake

Using the above definition of silo, let’s apply it to the workplace. We have all seen the silo effect where a department will operate in its own area, making decisions or having information, without involving or sharing with other departments that could be affected or benefited. Oftentimes, the results of those decisions are not what were hoped for. For example, a company’s advertising/marketing departments launched a campaign, “On time or it is free.” The purpose of this campaign was to promote on time service and increase profits by increasing the number of subscribers.

However, this campaign is a great example of The “Silo” Effect; acting alone in the decision making process. They did not talk to other departments, they just implemented the campaign. The services installation department that would actually do all the installs was not consulted. The results; the on-time guarantee was not promoted as there were not enough installers to meet the demand, making on-time service impossible. Profits did not increase; as it turned out to be a lot of “free” service given because the installers were so swamped, they could not get to the customer “on time.” However, the number of subscribers did increase. But at what cost to the company?

Share and Share Alike

The other example of The “Silo” Effect mentioned above in this article is not sharing information. For instance, one department has information among themselves only. In the field of Software Asset Management, there is a need to know when employees are terminated. With that knowledge, it could be determined if there were any software licenses that could be reclaimed. At that time there was not a tool or a way to get that info in the IT department. So, many licenses were lost. In talking with the network security department, it was discovered that they gather this same information for security management. On a weekly or monthly basis, a report could be run and given to the IT department to aid in the management the licenses. But the IT department did not know that these reports existed and were available just for the asking.

These are only two examples. However, most everyone has experienced at least one instance of The “Silo” Effect. So, how can this effect be minimized? Communicate, communicate and communicate some more. As part of silo definition at the beginning of this article, attach to another (structure) department. Don’t fly solo (alone). Before re-inventing the wheel, take a little extra time to ask around to see if what is needed already exists. Yes, this will take some extra time on the front end. But as shown in the two examples above, it will save a lot of time, effort and dollars on the back end. How do you communicate, you may ask? Below are three possible suggestions of ways to accomplish this communication.

  • Monthly company or departmental newsletter
  • Company or departmental intranet
  • Monthly meetings with managers

These three suggestions are internal to the company and/or department and may be considered sensitive private information and not for the general public (unless requested through a public information request).

Remember to always follow your chain of command when gathering information through communication. No manager wants their employee communicating with other departments and or Managers without their knowledge. If you are not already in management, your chain may look like the following; team lead, supervisor, manager, director etc. Definitely be aware of your chain of command. You do not want anyone in this chain to perceive that you went over their heads or left them out of the loop.

Dos and Don’ts

Although communication is a definite “do”, there are some “don’ts” as well. Don’t just show up in someone’s office and begin to ask questions. Always try to schedule an appointment time. As management is very busy, they may not have time for a sit down meeting. With today’s technology, you do not always have to communicate face to face. Email is a wonderful tool to use if a face to face meeting is not possible. Do not make the email too lengthy. Be sure your email has all the information needed and follows email etiquette. There is also the old standby, the telephone. Keep your phone conversation short and to the point. If leaving a voice mail message, don’t speak too quickly. You do not want the listener to have to play the message over and over just to get the entire conversation. Surely many of us have received emails that did not have the attachment attached or phone messages where the contact number on the voice mail was spoken much too quickly.

Finally, enough cannot be said about the importance of communication in an effort to minimize The “Silo” Effect. It must include all directions; from the top-down, down to the top, sideways left to right and right to left. Any direction that is missed could cause the project to halt.

About the Author

Diane Shepard-Hill is the Software Asset Manager for Texas Department of Public Safety.