When silos work
Kaye Vivian takes a new spin on knowledge silos that highlights an important aspect of how and why they arise in business. Perhaps Knowledge Silos Are Useful?
For the past couple of months I have been re-engaging in the business world, in a large organization that prides itself on its knowledge and Knowledge Management expertise. It has given me a new appreciation of knowledge silos, and I want to suggest a different point of view on why they are beneficial and why many organizations have difficulty when they want to break them down.
This idea is something I've stumbled upon recently myself. Traditionally, as Kaye discusses, "silos" are considered a bad thing. They get in the way of effective work practices, not only for knowledge management. Information silos prevent people sharing the same business information needs from seeing one another because they happen to reside in different parts of the business. In projects, silos create all sorts of barriers to effective execution, such as a separation in the language used between silos. Politics and territorialism play big roles here.
Kaye talks about another direction here. She's in an organization where the old walls have been torn down, and information is available everywhere. In fact, it is too much information to consume. So, she has had to put herself in a silo, so that she doesn't become overwhelmed with all the useful material out there.
I’ve found myself reacting in an unexpected way: I’m putting on blinders! I am reaching out to the people I know share my interests, and just ignoring the rest! Isn’t that a silo? I think so…but it’s one based upon self-protection from drowning in information (and emails), not an organizational structure or imperative. It’s PKM (personal knowledge management).
The key between these types of silos is that one is imposed by rigid structures and politics, and the other is imposed by demands of personal work styles and needs. Most importantly, if these "silos" are built at the individual level, it is much easier to decide to rearrange them.
There is no great structural upheaval if I decide that all project reports should now be grouped together, rather than in separate buckets associated with the projects. Of course, I have to be aware enough of my operating environment, that I see when it might be worthwhile to make those changes.
The other aspect of these personal silos is that I have my antennae out for related people and materials. I am not just wrapping silo walls around the stuff that already exists. Even if I don't need to rearrange my silos, I am continually adding and removing sources that will be the inspiration for future changes.
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