Over the years I have heard leaders, employees and volunteers refer to the silos in their company or organization. For the most part, they are referring to invisible walls that separate the various areas within the organization from one another either by ego, status, resources or communication. These silos are actually present to some extent in every organization that I have ever worked in or consulted.
A few years ago, Patrick M. Lencioni wrote about them in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and later wrote a very effective guide to silo busting – Silos, Politics and Turf Wars. He explores the issues that cause silos and gives very good counsel about how to dismantle them. That concept has also been my general understanding and approach to silos over the years. The problem with this approach is that it is based on the idea that silos are rooted in and sustained by conflict of some kind.
Over the past year I have had to rethink this issue, as I have run into silos that are not based in conflict (or competition), but nonetheless are very strong and real.
I discovered what I call “friendly silos” where walls exist, but there is no conflict. My approach to these silos was not the “common goal” that Lencioni proposes, but rather an understanding of each areas interdependence on one another.
“More than one four-star general has praised Operation Desert Storm’s joint deconfliction; that is, the conduct of relatively independent service operations orchestrated in space and time so as not to interfere with each other, as in air operations deconflicted with ground operations.
In Organization in Action, James D. Thompson describes three types of interdependence (from the least to the most complicated):
1. Pooled interdependence, where separate organizations, which perform adequately on their own, might fail if one or more of the others fail. Failure threatens all.
2. Sequential interdependence, which is linear like a supply chain or assembly line. One unit in the chain produces something necessary for the next unit, and so forth.
3. Reciprocal interdependence, where the output of one organization becomes the input for others and vice versa. (2) Organizations become less distinguishable from each other and their combined performance requires complex forms of coordination.
A complex relationship exists between the degree of interdependence and the degree of coordination needed. First, with pooled interdependence, by-the-book standardization works just free. Second, plans are well suited to situations where sequential interdependence is present. Third, the most demanding form of coordination–mutual adjustment–is based on continuous communication and decision making and is best suited to situations where reciprocal interdependence is present. “
This is a very significant insight for an organization that literally makes life and death decisions.
In my next post, I will give you an analogy from the sports arena to bring this issue to light.