Magazine article Government Finance Review

Poking Holes in Silos: Tearing Down Bureaucracies Altogether Might Be Overly Ambitious, but Poking a Few Holes Might Get at the Very Resources Agencies Need to Succeed

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Poking Holes in Silos: Tearing Down Bureaucracies Altogether Might Be Overly Ambitious, but Poking a Few Holes Might Get at the Very Resources Agencies Need to Succeed

Article excerpt

If you are someone who worries about silos in your organization--thinking and behavior that is so parochial as to hurt your organization's overall performance--take this little test.

* Are unit or department heads in your organization held accountable to their boss for the performance and functioning of their unit?

* Does the budget process allocate money to departments and units?

* Do fixed assets like computers and desks "belong" to a specific unit or department?

* Are units and departments assigned a particular space over which they have jurisdiction?

* Are personnel in your organization identified as being part of or "working for" a particular unit or department?

If you answered affirmatively on two or more of these questions, then you are experiencing silo-type behavior because, notwithstanding any leadership rhetoric to the contrary, your organization actively builds and reinforces silos.

Henry Ford, perhaps more than any other person, is responsible for introducing the bureaucratic system to modern organizations. He reasoned that if everyone is given a clearly defined job to do (turf) and the boss deftly engineers and coordinates those jobs, then the organization will be productive. These are the roots of what we bemoan today as silos. The practices implicit in my test questions are among those imbedded in management systems that work to define, build, and to reinforce such structures.

To change silo behavior, one must go back to the management systems responsible for inducing that behavior. Below I have some concrete suggestions for changing those management practices, but first, let's reexamine the silo metaphor and recall why they exist in the first place.

Consider two different kinds of silos. First, we have a grain silo. This kind of silo contains what we need to nurture life. We want what is inside this silo.

The second silo is the inside of an abandoned Titan missile silo. This silo performs a protective function, insulating the inner environment from outside forces.

Organizational silos also serve these functions--providing an insulated container within which a unit can efficiently produce the thing an organization needs--and they serve these functions so well that they keep us trapped or prevent us from getting at the very resources we need.

Given the functions they have served historically, tearing silos down altogether might be overly ambitious. But we can at least poke some holes in our silos, holes big enough to be a portal in and out. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.