A quick search on the Net for ‘organisational silos’ generates an endless list of headlines such as:

  • Breaking down silos for customer experience
  • The silo mentality: how to break down the barriers
  • Six strategies for breaking down silos
  • How to fix workplace silos
  • Reasons to permanently remove your organisational silos”

The list goes on.

At the same time, my clients say things like:

  • “The two Divisions aren’t working together like I need them to. We have to get rid of these silos…”
  • “The left hand never seems to know what the right hand is doing around here. There’s too many silos…”
  • “The conflict seems to be growing between the groups because of our silo mentality”
  • They can’t sort out the problems themselves so things get escalated to me and I don’t have time to deal with that. I need help to break down these silos”

No surprises here, perhaps apart from the fact that we are still saying these things after who knows how many decades of effort to ‘fix’ silos. I suspect that people would have had very similar complaints soon after the dawn of bureaucracy and the large organisation, yet we keep repeating ourselves and keep seeking the solution.

Worse, most of my clients seem to spend most of their working life under a mind-numbing state of restructuring, that tiresome quest for the Nirvanas where structure lives but silos don’t.

Isn’t it time to acknowledge that the quest to restructure away or otherwise kill our silos is akin to the hunt for the unicorn? It’s probably time to give it a rest.

So if we admit defeat and stop trying to restructure our silos to extinction, what’s Plan B? I say it is time to embrace our silos; time to stop trying to kill them; time to stop fruitlessly redesigning them; time to stop using them as an excuse. It is time to learn to work across them effectively and make those silos hum.

This means we:

  • Cease the endless restructuring and work with what we’ve got.
  • Stop blaming the ‘silos’ for getting in the way
  • Stop blaming them – the other group – for being hard to work with or not ‘getting with the program’.

Instead, as organisations we:

  • Focus on building our relational capability and the skills we need to work with other humans;
  • Build our ability to work in complex situations, to think systemically across silos
  • Strengthen our collaborative muscles, which are a key to success regardless of the organisational structure.

And as individuals we switch the frame:

  • from competition across silos to collaboration
  • from mistrust to extending trust
  • from me to we
  • from telling to asking and listening.

These things are hard to do – perhaps harder than calling in an expert to lead a restructure process – but might it be that the hard road is the one that offers a road to improvement?

Perhaps it is time to love our silos.