Googling the meaning of the word “silo” will give you something like this unless in sometime someone comes up with a different meaning to it:

1. a tall tower or pit on a farm used to store grain.
2. an underground chamber in which a guided missile is kept ready for firing.

But, being an IT guy, I am more interested in the verb form of silo. I hope you are too:

1. isolate (one system, process, department, etc.) from others.
"most companies have expensive IT systems they have developed over the years, 
but they are siloed"

Isolation. That is what silo is all about in IT. It is a mindset that occurs in organisations which is resistance to share information and expertise with other team members or other teams as such. This occurs due to the reluctance to share information so as to create a dependency upon themselves and feel important. This basically results in stunted growth of the team and bottlenecks in the team delivery.

Another reason that silos are so prevalent is due to fear and lack of confidence. People doubt their skills and are not ready to reveal or share their work. They are constantly worried about what others might think of their work. It is a norm that whenever something goes wrong, the leadership or the management is always looking for the root of the mistake and finally, someone to blame. No one wants to be in the spotlight for the wrong reason.

This “blame game” results in teams ending up defending themselves and trying to showcase other teams’ incapability. This results in frustration amongst the team and hence they go into silos where there is no open communication. There is less productivity, lot of frustration all around.

All this leads to the organisation being not at it’s best and producing mediocre work. There is a lack of ownership and no one wants to stand up and provide a solution. No one wants to be in the limelight for fear of being wrong and making a mistake. This also affects decision making where decisions are made to satisfy own personal comforts and not thinking about the goals of the organisation as a whole.

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.
- Margaret Fuller

This whole scenario creates a difficult situation for managers as it is an additional effort to ensure that the team has seamless prductivity and support the organisational goals. Few things that may help people come out of silo mentality:

  • Reward mentorship: Proactively encourage mentorship within the team. When people feel appreciated for helping out and teaching others, they tend to do it more. Everyone is looking for appreciation, how much ever you might deny it. So, recognise the individual when there is a real effort to share their knowledge and expertise with others. Make them feel that sharing is a way to get more respect.

  • Learn through mistakes: Don’t make a big deal of mistakes and do not try to corner someone for something they have done wrong. Give the liberty to learn through mistakes. This doesn’t mean encouraging mediocre work. But encourage learning through mistakes and documenting them so that someone else does not end up doing the same.

  • Open communication: Keep communication open and let the team know what is going on. All the one on one meetings and talking to resources behind others’ back is going to bring the team morality down and create a sense of insecurity. Keep everyone apprised of the contributions of others so that there is no blame game withing the team. Knowing what the other does is a way to eliminate doubt and create trust within the team members.

  • Align to bigger goals: Orient the resources towards a bigger organisational goal. Make them understand the vision of the company and encourage them to think like they own the business. Make them feel that they are important part of the company and that everybody’s contribution makes a difference. Giving them the ownership of their actions is a powerful way to encourage better work.

  • Encourage positive feedback: To eliminate the fear of sharing and discussing work, encourage positive feedback within the team. Someone does something the wrong way or in a way that is below the expectation, give them feedback positively. Do no snap at them and start blaming them for the mistakes they’ve done. That will close them up and they end up being in a silo.

  • Make them feel important: Sometime silos are formed just because of someone’s ego. It’s okay to make them feel important and avoid any possible conflicts within the team. To an extent, this helps in them easing down and being more open to sharing.

Organisational silos do not contribute to growth. Though this cannot be completely avoided, can be minimised with proper supervision from the management. Knowledge is useful only when it is shared, so make sure it is!