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Silos: the other side of the equation

Try running a silo. Or don't bother -- just say that silos can be good. You risk being branded as unfit for leadership/management. Reason: for the leadership community, silo means a team perceived as "isolated" and therefore the word silo has huge negative connotations.

Are silos always bad? Like good cholesterol, might there be good silos, too?

McKinsey alumni Katzenbach and Vlak and leadership expert Cohn say in their December 2008 HBR article "Silos are not all bad. In fact, they often provide the insulation needed to build world-class pockets of highly specialized know-how that have deep operational expertise, consumer insight, industry experience, and so forth."

Case in point: The group that I founded and led at my former employer was perceived by some as a silo. The group, which was started in the late 90s as a humble user interface COE, changed the practice from user-centric to business process centric. Then, the group went on to innovate a business process centric approach to software development. Finally, the group spun off a business process consulting COE that unified process and IT in a new way. NONE of these value innovations would have been possible without the insulation that comes with good silos.

Should we redefine the word silo by replacing "isolation" with "insulation"? Because, if it was "isolation," my group could not have engaged with 100+ global customers.

Good silos, therefore, might be a necessity if your objective is Growth through Innovation. What has been your experience?


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