We talk a lot about silos in organizations usually in the context of Business Units of divisions. But these are not the only silos. Functional silos are often stronger: IT, Finance, the medics in a pharmaceutical industry, sales forces, HR, Communications people, etc. In this cases, silos and tribes are the same.
The trade industry (and conference organisers) perpetuate this. Global conferences are set up where HR people talk to HR people, Internal Communications to Internal Communications, teckie to teckie, marketing to marketing, even CFOs to CFOs. These almost medieval trade groups talk to themselves. And have fun. It’s cozy, rewarding, predictable, and, despite what they may say, hardly a place for breakthrough thinking. By the way, it’s not unusual to find that, in those trade/silo/tribal conferences, 80% are ‘consultants’ and 20% ‘real people’.
Yet, we desperately need the cross-pollination. (I want to see conferences with quota: how many HR, how many business leaders etc.)
If a teckie concept is not worth explaining to non teckie audience, it is not worth marketing it. If a HR idea is not worth presenting to non HR, they’d better keep it for themselves.
The tribes will not go away. They will never will. The do exist to provide a glue, a sense of belonging, a protected house, a defense castle, a place with an aura of accessibly, or lack of it. Corporate tribes are here to stay. But we need to use our imagination to allow, and promote, tribe A to talk to tribe B, routinely.
Gillian Tett, who heads the Financial Times in the US, an anthropologist by training, has written a anthropo-journalistic-wonderful account of silos, and their cons (and also pros) – The Silo Effect. It’s a good read and good account of these tribal ghettos (my term, not hers)
The trick with social phenomena like this is not to fight them blindly. Tribes, even intellectual ghettos, have a place. The question is how to establish bridges and communication channels. How to make sure that they all have windows that can be open and fresh air let in. I don’t have a problem with tribes, even medieval-guilds-intellectual-ghettos, as long as their walls are very thin and with plenty of doors and windows.
And another thing. Make it compulsory for business/operational people to spend some time, perhaps six months, working on those Tribal Reservations: HR. Communications, IT. If they resist, make it a Conscript Project. In Situ Fertilization works.