Beware of the Silo

My father grew up on a dairy farm in what is called the southern tier of New York State.  The farm had a large red barn with a 30 foot high silo next to it.  One day, when he was 12, he had the urge to climb the silo.  According to my grandmother, there were reasons to climb the silo, but on this day he was just doing it for fun.  Near the top something happened and he fell off the silo to land on the concrete at the base.  I’m not sure how he landed, neither is he, for some reason he cannot recall the exact details.  My father got up, walked around the side of the barn and collapsed in his father’s arms who was rounding the corner coming from the other direction.  My grandfather carried him into the house and placed him on the kitchen table.  The doctor came to the house and checked him over.  There didn’t seem to be any external damage, no broken bones, and they could only guess at internal bleeding.  The consensus was he’d either be dead by morning, or okay.  (Spoiler alert: he made it through just fine.)  He is what they call in the business, a silo survivor.  Now, I have joined him.

I didn’t fall off a silo like he did.  I’d like to think learning from my parents is one way that I have made some decent decisions.  In some cases, it was learning from what they told me, in other cases it was learning by doing either what they did or the exact opposite.  Hey, we’re not all perfect.  I know I’ve led by “bizzaro” example many times.  The old “do as I say and the opposite of what I do” saying applies here.  So no, I did not climb a silo and fall off.  My fear of heights keeps me from attempting something like that.  Actually, I don’t fear heights as much as I fear my internal impulse that I can fly and will attempt to do so at the most inopportune moment.  That’s probably a story for another time.

In business, silos are the names we like to put on divisions within the company.  The term “we” here applies to people like me who point out how things should be different (self proclaimed experts at least in our own minds).  Take a company like Xerox which has many silos.  Some are product related (I worked in the office products group, not the production products group).  Some are sales related (at one point, I worked in the sales agents group and now have moved into the direct sales group).  Others are post-sale (supplies and service contracts).  These groups all roll up to one division or another which gets you through a few vice presidents and then to a division president, to the company president to the company CEO.  I’d draw a picture, but my drawing skills have taken a beating after watching what my daughter can design given a piece of chalk and a sidewalk.  I assume there is not a need to sell the silo concept with that example all that hard.  It is entirely possible that people working in each group have no idea what is going on in the other groups.  There may actually be a point where two groups are working on the exact same thing without realizing it if you can imagine that.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what would happen if silo doors were opened and the residents were allowed to come out into the field, squint while their eyes adjusted to the light and had open discussions.  Do we think they would run wild?  Take over the place Animal Farm style?  Or would they instead chose to share their projects and visions in the hopes of collaborating and development.  Of course, since we all learn from an early age to protect what is ours and don’t give too much away, you could end up with just a mass of people still separating themselves into silos even though they are not confined to the walls.

My wife works at a salon.  For Rochester, this salon is a rather decent sized facility.  You might think smaller companies would not have silos, but even they do.  Some salons are simply places where a stylist can rent a chair and have their clientele find them there.  Some of the larger, full service salons are able to develop employees and departmentalize.  Silos.  Or since this is the beauty industry, do we call them curlers, follicles, short-medium-long?  I really need to work on my lingo.  If you work there, you are a stylist, colorist, makeup artist, coordinator, nail technician, hair plucker (esthetician?), massage artist, etc.  There are department meetings, sales and service goals, and in some cases, probably things going on in one department that are not known by the others.  In that business though, there are not so many levels to get to the top (an office in the back) and last I checked, there was not a title of Vice President.  Still, departments become silos, people specialize and sometimes lose sight of the big picture.

Take a look at your business.  If it is a one person show, you probably don’t have silos unless you are working through multiple personalities.  If you have people focused on industries, concentrations, skills, you probably have silos developing.  I’m not suggesting you worry, who am I after all.  Just make sure your team gets let out to pasture frequently and mixes with the dwellers of other silos.  It can be very refreshing to meet someone that sits one silo over who has great ideas that you can collaborate (not steal, there will be no stealing on this Utopian farm). 

Before you do anything else, at least take the ladders off the sides.  These may be theoretical silos but someone will get it in their head they want to see the view from up there and next thing you know you’ve got someone lying on a table wondering if they’re going to make it. 

My father survived, I don’t think he ever climbed another silo though.  His next trick was falling asleep on the tractor and driving through a fence.  My grandmother loves telling those stories.


One Response to “Beware of the Silo”

  1. Toi Says:

    I’m fascinated by plexiglas.

    Let’s go one up from the open silo door. What if the whole silo is transparent?

    In the new spirit of a more transparent US, I’m voting for personal plexiglas silos.

    Those in glass houses…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: