It could be argued that ‘silos’ are part of the human condition and group interaction, and Chris Rodgers (Informal Coalitions) has argued this eloquently.
Silos have to do with borders, with identities, with focus of energy, with differences, with defence and success. Often we say that Marketing, Sales or R&D, for example are silos. When we say this we say it in a complaining mood. That articulation is hardly complimentary.
But whether this functional silo as a ‘good or bad cholesterol’ remains to be seen. It is only when you describe how people behave that the silo will become ‘good or bad’.
Very often management teams complain that there is no unified view of things, and this is because those functional silos are… silos. But, wait a minute, is Marketing supposed to do Sales, or Sales to do R&D? Is it the issue that they are supposed to be (forced to) agree?. Sales wants 20 types of products and 20 prices; Marketing wants one product that can be sold and one campaign that can sell it; R&D wants a product that can be made. Yep, a caricature, but the point is, the functions are naturally driving their energy to different directions. Leadership is supposed to make sense and create a common purpose, not to suppress the differences. The leadership that always drives to a win-win situation (read, very often, compromise) is many times fostering a loss- loss one.
‘Bad silo’ is not the one that preserves the difference, but the one in which behaviours negate communication and sharing. When people are defensive, overprotective, excessively tribal and unable to see the ‘common’ idea, then they are in ‘bad silo’ mode.
‘Bad silo’ syndrome, by the way, is not solved by re-structuring, by putting all the silo people under one roof. If the bad silo DNA is strong, people will continue to silo-behave even if they are all now under one Vice President.
Surprise, surprise, it is behaviours, again, not structures