Breaking Down Silos
"Let's break down those silos." I hear this phrase a lot. It sounds good. Very simple. We should all do that. But, as with many things, complex problem have simple, easy-to-understand wrong answers. I grew up in Ohio, so I had the pleasure of seeing lots of silos. Most people think the analogy is straightforward, that silos are simple, weak structures that look imposing but are easy to tear down. Nothing could be further from the truth. Silos are built to hold grain or other material such as sand or gravel. As such, they are incredibly strong, as the mass and weight of 200 vertical feet of grain is immense. A silo has to be reinforced to hold in that mass and keep the silo from collapsing. Modern silos are made of sheet metal and reinforced. But most silos you see by a barn are actually made out of concrete or cement block. They are old and very strong. And very difficult to knock down.
Silos in the corporate world share many of the same characteristics. They are old and strong and they are still around today because they work for their owners. Breaking down a silo sounds easy, but silos are resilient. Just watch the video below. And it can also be dangerous. Silos don’t always fall in the direction you expect them to. Sometimes there is collateral damage. And when they are finally, down, there is a big mess to clean up.
Most of us in the Midwest are used to seeing silos dotting the countryside. But there is another type of silo: the missile silo. They are buried deep underground, made of reinforced concrete several feet thick, and are impervious to bombing. They are never removed or destroyed – they are repurposed or abandoned and sealed. They are hidden and hard to see. And you have no idea what is inside. It's definitely not grain, but it is likely far more dangerous. If you think taking down a grain silo is hard, try taking out a missile silo.
Removing corporate silos is not easy, and the dismissive phrase of “just taking them down” belies the difficulty involved. Silos are designed to keep something in, keep everything else out, and withstand storms, tornadoes and bombs. By design, they are rugged and not easy to destroy or even infiltrate.
When you go about taking out a corporate silo, ask yourself these questions first:
What kind of silo am I dealing with?
Who built it?
What is inside the silo and why?
What is it trying to keep out?
If I take it down, what will happen? Where will all its contents go?
Once you have these answers, you can then go about planning on EMPTYING the silo first, THEN you can go about tearing it down so it is not reused.