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Ducks in a Row: Beware the Horizontal Silo

by Miki Saxon

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonnygoldstein/8161551606/Silos—they are found in almost every company no matter the size.

Silos are the scourge of collaboration

The most commonly noticed are departmental silos, but horizontal silos based on position and education are far more insidious and damaging.

I loathe horizontal silos and consider them second only to politics on the corporate stupidity index.

More times than I can count I’ve seen the ideas of an engineer 1 or 2 discounted or ignored by the 3s and senior engineers—of course, that’s better than stealing them, although that happens, too.

The attitude seems to be one of ‘your brain is incapable of any creative thinking until you are at least at my pay grade’, which is beyond idiotic.

People’s brains work differently; some see what is, others see possible improvements and a few see around corners, but that sight has little to do with position.

Steve Jobs saw around the corner of the personal computer market before there was a personal computer market and certainly before he had any credibility what so ever.

And I can personally attest that training and education don’t necessarily play a role. Decades ago I redesigned two street intersections where I lived in San Francisco, but I didn’t suggest the solutions to the traffic engineers—I knew they wouldn’t listen because I have no training.

Instead, I sneaked both ideas in through someone I know who was ‘accepted’ and both solutions are still in effect today.

Silos are built of egos, which is why, vertical or horizontal, they’re so difficult to break down.

The best solution is for CEOs to build a culture that values everybody’s ideas equally, but there’s no guarantee that they will or even that they agree.

Even when they do there’s you can’t count on every executive and others in management roles will embrace the approach.

Technology offers a leg up for bosses who see silos as blockades.

One approach I helped a client implement created an innovation wiki that completely obscured the name, level, grade and even department of the person posting the suggestion.

Each idea had a different ID and confirmation was automatically sent to the poster so they still had bragging rights if it was used or warranted a bonus.

That anonymity leveled the playing field and assured everyone that each idea was considered strictly on its merits, not on the merits of the person who thought of it.

It also encouraged people to post way-outside-the-box ideas without worrying about appearing silly, pushy or arrogant if the idea happened to be outside of their personal expertise.

Finally, when an idea was used, whether all, in part or as a springboard to something else, there was an announcement, kudos and request that the poster step forward and take a bow.

It’s a very popular program.

Productivity skyrocketed as a river of suggestions flowed that offered solutions to long-time problems, ideas for product enhancements and even next-gen products—often from the most unlikely places.

Flickr image credit:  johnny goldstein

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