by Jill Brownlee Wolf
Silos have a purpose, grain storage. They may or may not be used to separate different products, but they are always about storing them. They protect the products from natural elements like rain and wind, but again the protection is secondary to functioning as a storage area.
For a long time organizations have thought that they needed to protect and store information within their company very separately and consequently silo-off one section of the company from the other. The sales department didn’t need to know what was going on with the marketing department, the manufacturing line didn’t need to know what happened at the managers conference, and the assistant in the warehouse didn’t need to know how the boss was spending his or her expense account. However, this has led to secretive silos that in accomplishing their purpose of protection have led to mistrust, corruption, and unhealthy competition. This is not effective for an organization.
Silos are also a metaphor to describe the current educational setting. Every subject area is separate and only connected if and when an educator attempts to connect them. Curricula have tried to integrate content area, although many just superficially, but if a teacher feels uncomfortable with their expertise in the other content areas, they ignore the connections and teach only where they are comfortable. Consequently, children say they are good at math, but can’t write. The truth is, you can’t LEARN math without literacy. You read word problems, explain algorithms, and write proofs of your geometric claims; and this is literacy. This is not effective for our education.
Finally, we all live our lives in silos. We keep our personal lives very separate from our professional lives claiming that I can cheat on my personal taxes and still be a person of integrity in my business dealings. We are convinced we are disciplined because we keep a calendar of the use of our time, but eat fast food on the run while avoiding exercise at all cost giving ourselves a plump middle that we are convinced is normal since everyone has one. We go to church Sundays to worship and then cuss out a subordinate for not getting the package sent on time. This is not effective for our souls.
Our culture is one of silos and not about the whole. I am not an honest person if I’m honest with my friends, honest with my family, but lie to my workplace about my college and professional experience to date. I only have character if that character is evident in ALL areas of my life. But these silos keep my life private and safe against others seeing my naughty habits, my inconsistencies, and what makes me untrustworthy. Is this the kind of culture we want? Is this how we want to educate our future? Is this the kind of organization we wish to be a part of.
If not, then education, organizations, and we need to change. Silos need to go and life needs to be connected and transparent in all of the possibly relevant ways.
Education needs to integrate ideas from all subject areas since real life problems require all areas for a good solution. A film with great acting, high production value, and superb special effects is still considered lousy if the story is NOT true to the human spirit or the dialogue is forced and longwinded. A learning experience is NOT a learning experience unless it ties together how every subject area helps to develop the conceptual understanding or skill. For example, math helps express concepts in science, literacy is the only way to express understanding of ideas in any subject area, and current ideas are only on the table for discussion because of the historical work of Person A, B & C. Most importantly, I can’t truly understand and internalize an idea unless I can put it to a test and see it generate reliable results. This is integration not separation.
Organizations need to share information to all those within the organization. Mary Kay Cosmetics prints a magazine once a month with the paycheck amounts of the top sales directors and consultants. Many companies are now publishing a company newsletter sharing marketing, sales, and production figures to the entire company every quarter, bringing everyone into the celebration or improvement conversation.
As I build the infrastructure of my Trailhead Enterprises I realize the importance of transparency since it fosters trust, accountability, and tribe. All research around teams and organizations points to trust and accountability being KEY factors toward success both with people and production. It can be dangerous to show all your cards, but this is no poker game. Our success depends on every player working together and for this, silos simply won’t work.