9/26/2011 | 3 MINUTE READ

Silos Belong on Farms

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I think few of us citizens are immune from frustration when we look at the dysfunction of our so-called political leaders.


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I think few of us citizens are immune from frustration when we look at the dysfunction of our so-called political leaders. Regardless of party affiliation, I think their behavior is reprehensible and far from representative.

It seems like another world to those of us who dwell in the real one. Throughout history, when the country was in trouble, leaders stood up and led. That’s not happening now. Instead, they seem to be ducking for cover and running away from making hard decisions.

Moreover, even the most basic mechanisms of communication are not being used because the ideological divides are too wide. The two-party system is like bullies on a playground, and no one is willing to blink. The rest of us blink everyday to get our work done; why can’t our elected officials?

There is a term that has become in vogue that describes the myopia of individuals and groups of individuals that’s called a silo. Of course, most of us have seen silos standing in the fields as we drive by farms. They are used to store farm products.

In interpersonal relationships, silos are used to describe people who are so caught up in their own worlds that they can’t see anything beyond their own particular silo. I believe that’s what’s happening in our executive and legislative branches. The parties are so involved with their individual and group silos that they cannot see beyond the walls they created for themselves. The result is divided government that can’t/won’t do the job we elected them to do.
Business is different. Of course, there are silos in our businesses, as well. But they are increasingly rooted out and constantly monitored so they do not affect the end products.

Business, especially manufacturing, must create a deliverable at the end of the day or cease being in business.

For example, the IT department in many companies has become somewhat of a silo. These techies are very good at their jobs, but can seem somewhat removed from other departments in the company. Good IT managers know this, and part of their job is to integrate their departments as seamlessly as possible into other departments. Of course, departments are in essence silos, as well.

Engineering and manufacturing historically have been somewhat silo-like in part because they see their respective contributions to the organization differently, if not in opposition.

Through the years, manufacturers have made great strides in breaking down the silos certainly between engineering and manufacturing particularly because cooperation between these two vital functions within a company must work in order for the company to compete and therefore survive.

Design for manufacturability initiatives have gone a long way to break down these traditional silos. But it takes diligence because in many cases, there is a strong tendency to try and rebuild interdepartmental walls. Maybe it’s turf wars, but management needs to stay on top of the tendency.

Other silos exist in companies and on the shop floor, such as setup people versus operators, first shift versus second shift and third shift. There might have been a time when manufacturing could afford some of this silo mentality partially because it was easier to let it be than break it up. That’s no longer true.

The efficiency demanded by today’s competitive markets, domestic and global, make the need for cooperation among the functionaries in companies vital to their existence. We have created excellent tools for this cooperation with great strides being made in communication among various silo dwellers. It’s like the once solid silo has been perforated allowing the occupants to see and hear outside the cylinder.

Companies have no choice in the matter of running a leaner more streamlined operation because it’s about survival. There is motivation for people to work together.

Unfortunately, the public sector doesn’t feel much compunction in that direction. As we move into the famously worded “silly season” of electoral politics, perhaps we as customers need to take a very hard look at the silos in place for our officials and consider ways to first put in some windows, and if that doesn’t work, install exit doors in them.