What do you think of when you hear the word silo?  Most people know that silos are used for storage on farms.  Did you also know that there are information silos?  These exist for legitimate security reasons.  The term information silo has been used in a negative sense to describe a person or group of people who focus inward and where communication only flows vertically.  Often communication is top-down, where those closer to the bottom act or react based on what is sent down.  I will call this the silo effect.  I am confident many of you are familiar with this phenomenon.

What is the culture like where the silo effect is commonplace?  The agricultural application can shed light on this question.  The primary purpose of a silo is storage.  One definition of storage says the act of storage is to keep items safe.  Can we always keep something safe?  Should we?  What are the implications of playing it safe?

Another purpose of a silo is to preserve contents for later use.  Preservation often requires the silo to be sealed.  This prevents light and air form coming in contact with the silo’s contents.  This preserves grain but it causes information to rot.  If information never sees the light what use is it?  Even grain stored in an airtight silo can decay and lose its usefulness.  The same applies to workplace silos.  Information is only effective if people have access to it.  This requires information to be active, flowing up and down.  If it doesn’t move, it decays and loses its usefulness.  The marketplace is constantly changing and information is constantly moving.  Access to current information is a critical success factor.  The farther away from the information source a person is, the longer it takes to respond and benefit.

How do we keep information from decay?  One way is to use a “first in, first out” approach.  Many silos have two access points, at the top and the bottom.  Grain is put in at the top and taken out at the bottom.  The grain put in first is the first taken out at the bottom.  This prevents the grain from sitting too long and spoiling.  We all have mechanisms for taking information in.  Do we have a mechanism for moving it out?  Do we have a way of deciding where or to whom it should go?  Do you need input from others to get the most out of the information?

What are your information sources?  Does information sit when it comes to you?  How do you access current information?  How do you know what you are receiving is fresh?  Does information come to you or do you go to get it?

What experiences have you had with the silo effect?  Do you have any tips for preventing the silo effect?