Buzzwords: Silo

A part of a company that works in isolation from others, making for a culture of limited communication

Back Article Sep 18, 2019 By Vanessa Labi

\ ˈsī-(ˌ)lō  \

\ ˈsī-(ˌ)lō  \

“I think we need more silos to really increase transparency and productivity,” said no one, ever. Silos refer to a part of a company that works in isolation from others, making for a culture of limited communication. In this age of collaboration in the workplace, businesspeople are on a mission to break silos down. 

The Buzz

Some may confuse silos with the concept of ultradefined roles. Leidhra Guild, an engagement manager at the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, explains that role clarity — knowing which departments and team members are experts in which areas — is beneficial but is not to be confused with silos, which obscure information between departments. 

Guild, who liaises across departments to gather companywide information to ensure investor satisfaction, says, “There have to be some defined lanes, but to me, it’s important to have a defined lane where you can still have the fluidity to move in and out of your lane. That’s so different from a siloed system.”

Silos can be formed when making sure employees’ time is spent only on their expertise or when everyone in the company is so busy they feel they don’t have time to reach beyond their domain. 

The Word

So how can companies avoid silos? Guild recalls one tactic used by a manager from Elliott’s Natural Foods, where she worked during college. “My manager wanted us to all train on everything, from the cash register to supplements. He didn’t use the word ‘silos,’ but looking back on it, that’s what he was trying to avoid.” Guild points out that this all-hands-on-deck approach is sustainable, to boot. “If you have silos and somebody leaves, there’s no one to fill in on that position.” 

 An organizational chart can also go a long way toward defining role clarity, as well as outlining opportunities for communication and collaboration. “It really helps as long as you’re not so defined by the role that you’re like, ‘Ooh, can’t touch that — that’s not within my job description.’ That’s where silos are created.”

A chart is a strategic, tactical approach, but even before that tool comes into play, it’s crucial for a company to have core goals, and in order for these ideals to stick, it has to come from leadership. “Whether that’s just a nicely written sentence or communicating the core goals of an organization, it can really help, because it’s saying we’re all in this together to reach these goals,” Guild says.

Guild also says companies should be transparent in the interviewing and onboarding process: “Just so people know, ‘Hey, we promote an open culture here, a collaborative information-sharing culture.’” As it turns out, acknowledging them can move the needle toward connection and clarity. Guild says, “If we’re talking about the issues, that’s a step in the right direction.”

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