Silo Busting

There’s a nice piece (subscription required) in the "intelligence" section of the March Associations Now by Dale Gaddy of the American Chemical Society about how they avoid "silos" in their organization. Unlike most associations, they have nearly 2,000 (!) employees, so silos are a big risk there. Gaddy has a nice bulleted list of things to do to avoid silos, but my favorite quote is this:

At ACS, leaders have found that the key to avoiding the isolation and proliferation of silos is to drive the process. ACS’ executive director and senior management team take the wheel to ensure that money and time is allocated for encouraging employees from various units to share information regularly.

This approach translates to many meetings throughout the year–and meetings translate to dollars.

It’s not enough just to declare that people should work cross-functionally. You need to give them time to do it. The results, according to Gaddy: "fewer gaps, overlaps, and fumbles, and, ultimately greater member service."


  1. 20.04.2006 at 3:42 pm

    This is kind of interesting to me b/c it sort of relates to problems I’ve observed in my last two positions. In these cases, the organizations are quite small (fewer than 10 employees) and so there’s this kind of “we all help each other out,” attitude that is prevalent. Fine. But in reality there end up being huge issues with people not thinking clearly about process, and then this degrades into personal issues. And these have not been small problems. So, far from being siloed, I’m all like, let’s get some boundaries into place. Is that a reasonable thought or should it go the other way and have it be more open to sharing?

  2. 21.04.2006 at 9:07 am

    Good point, Nick. Although silos can be stifling, there are good reasons for their existence in the first place. Division of labor is efficient, and clarity about an effective process is always better than no clarity. Boundaries are good, as long as they are permeable in terms of information. It’s interesting that BOTH strong silos and invisible boundaries can so easily lead to issues being defined as “personal.” Wherever you end up on the silo/open spectrum, you still need to be able to separate out structural from interpersonal issues. So, bottom line: yes, it’s a reasonable thought to have some boundaries, but you as a group need to figure out what they are and what their purpose really is (that is usually unspoken, and can cause trouble later if not made explicit).