Rethinking Silos

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I had an amazing conversation spontaneously erupt at a recent partner meeting; suddenly very eloquent analogies were being honed in real time about silos.

Kim, from YWCA, began by expressing that silos often have a negative connotation in our fields of work, as a paradigm that lacks collaboration and problem-solving together.  We constantly hear that these silos must be broken down for good things to happen, but that is in fact not how silos work; magic happens in the spaces of collaboration between silos. 

On the farm a silo needs to stay packed and airtight, keeping its nutrient rich feed contained so that chemistry can take over and age the feed to its peak value.  The silo concept, when we throw it around in the workplace jargon, is one of concentrated expertise; just like the carefully filled mixes on farms all over this country, it means that an area is working in isolation – and that is seen as negative. 

Everyone has an expertise and a role, an area in which they know exactly what is going on and how it fits into the larger scheme of things. Each department, each team, each role has a delicate balance of forming that is best done within the system of itself. 

This idea of breaking down silos does not work. A well-formed team, or department needs to be built up, supported to keep its good work going, encouraged to find its expertise and stride.  Only when the siloed team is robust can it then be relied on to contribute to a greater project or the greater whole in the agency or area. The magic is not in the leveling of the silo itself, rather in the coming together of the expertise and focus of each silo to a focal point where the areas of expertise and experience overlap and are equally needed to address the project or concern in front of them. The synergy is not in blasting apart well-made structures and chemistry and expertise, but in leaning on the solid walls of that level of knowledge in order to find a way forward.  

Silos are great prominent structures that dot our landscape, but eventually season after season the well structured silage inside nourishes the herd and the next crop is planned, grown and harvested. No silo just sits full of super great knowledge that goes nowhere. The silo is a magic place where good things are stored, equally in our workplace a resilient and strong team is an enchanting place for innovation and ideas. And when teams need to come together, there is good food for thought all around.

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