Busting silos and transgressing the boundaries: A call for submissions - Macleans.ca

Busting silos and transgressing the boundaries: A call for submissions


I’m asking your help for a new project I’m working on. I’m looking for examples of claims that the problem with an institution is the vertical or hierarchical nature of its organization. Put colloquially, I’m looking for arguments where the thesis is that the obstacle to more innovation, bigger profits, or better results is that there are too many corporate “silos”, and that the solution is to “bust the silos”.

The classic version of this is the mission statement from the company that used to be called Canwest, which read, in part: “Our people bust the silos to leverage the content, best practices and the tremendous brain power that exists throughout our organization.”

Yet it strikes me that this assumption is endemic in the literature on corporate organization and in management theory. I know that an emphasis on “horizontality” is a part of the neverending attempt at re-imagining the public service in Ottawa. It is also the implicit theory behind the push for “interdisciplinarity” or “collaborative research” in the universities. In every case, the argument is the same: Vertical bad, horizontal good. Rules bad, freedom good. etc.

What I’m asking for are specific examples. Management books, mission statements, position papers, office memos, you name it – please send them on.  If you can think of examples where an organization – university, newsroom, corporation, etc. – has been turned upside-down in the name of busting silos, please tell me your story in the comments, or email Jandrewpotter at gmail.com

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Busting silos and transgressing the boundaries: A call for submissions

  1. Latest business buzzword like Theory Z, 'continuous improvement' and 'just in time' used to be. Probably about as useful too. LOL


  2. At one point, during the many revamps of the Ontario health care system, there was a push to get rid of 'silos' There were lots of consultation meetings with 'stakeholders' (Liberals were in power at the time). A few minor changes were made.

    But since then, we've acquired CCAC's (Community Care Access Cntres) and the latest addition to the heirarchy, LHINs (local health integration networks). If someone could take down some of those silos maybe we could afford to do more at the hands-on community health care level.

    A lot of things were turned upside down, but alas, no silos were burst.

    I mention this because I think the problem is not hierarchy itself because some organization structure is needed (total consensus decision making is a long cumbersome process and can cater to the lowest common denominator) but the prolifieration of silos within organizations and the failure to solicit and recognize valuable input from those who are lower on the ladder. That's where organizations all too often fail.

    • That's interesting — thanks a lot.

  3. Well obviously the mainstream media has had it's silos busted by technology, the internet, bloggers, internet comment boards, government media control, media conglomeration, The Mock News, lack of female power in the executive ranks, lack of diversity on boards, media labor strikes and reorganizations, and so forth. So if Potter is asking how one media org was affected by a recognized set of global silo-breaking influences, what point is there to his framing? I could name 10 or 20.

    • That's not remotely what I was asking.

      • Have you looked at all the units reporting to Industry Canada?

        The CTSA has been producing an annual report on 'silo-busting' strategies for years. I found this link on http://www.connexscience.ca — another silo-busting effort managed by 76Design and Thornley Fallis. Interesting that while the http://www.publicscience.ca lobby complains that Federal Scientists can't speak to the National Press, the Federal gov't is inviting those same scientists (and the media) to openly collaborate online…. I expect that your research will ultimately discover that competing political goals are at the heart of innovation-stalling management practices.

      • Did you look at The Ontario Local Health System Integration Act, 2006? http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english
        "The purpose of this Act is to provide for an integrated health system to improve the health of Ontarians through better access to high quality health services, co-ordinated health care in local health systems and across the province and effective and efficient management of the health system at the local level by local health integration networks. 2006, c. 4, s. 1."
        The motto of the McGuinty Government leading up to the Act was "Healthcare Transformation" …same as the CMA's recent packaging of http://www.healthcaretransformation.ca.

  4. Andrew, you're busting up the silo y'self! A producer of content formerly known as "journalism," formerly produced from such raw materials as "research" and "interns," is now soliciting content from a new base of suppliers formerly known as his "readers."

  5. You might consider the discipline of anthropology which, at least in North America in the 90's, prompted by re-warmed french theory, set about busting it's own silo. Old assumptions were discarded, critical reflexivity and interdisciplinary studies was the thing, and anth. theory became primarily directed against any 'embedded' hierarchical assumptions within the discipline itself. Of course what really happened is two new silos (at least), gender studies and indigenous studies, emerged as new power bases which were immune/exempt from the urge/imperative to bust (the why of this might be relevant to your question).This is a fairly abstract example, and maybe too broad to be useful, but it seems instructive to the extent that new silos emerge fairly quickly from the rubble of the old, and they tend to be occupied by those behind the initial 'bust 'em up' drive.

    • This is pretty much exactly where I'm coming from. Academia is the ground zero for a lot of this stuff, because it is the one place where theories of power/knowledge are most easily translated into organizational practice. So what I'm interested in looking at is how the arcane academic theories of disciplinarity that you mention have been translated into corporate theories of needing to "bust silos" in the name of innovation and creativity.

      • A academic loser gets drunk with a corporate wunderkid down on his luck and voila, a new buzzword is born. My experience is that people most interested in "silo-busting" are the ones most interested in building their own silo. It is a much catchier phrase than preventing the damn bureacrats from empire building though.

      • I suppose title of the post was the giveaway in this regard: it inspired a Pomo flashback, echoing as it did the generic form of any number of soc/a nth conferences at the time. Most unfortunate to see it's zombie lurching around the corporate realm: past experience should indicate that at the very least, one big silo (the more you use the term, the more ridiculous it seems) tends to foster a cosmopolitan culture that is lost when the busted bits are reconstituted into identity based local fiefdoms.

  6. I don't know if it is what you are looking for. But the coalition government's "big society" shenanigans over in the U.K. should be offering you a wealth of material…

    "Tory MP calls for local government planning to be replaced by 'chaos'"

    • Certainly a comment of such depth is no sleight of hand, but reveals an animating philosophy of post-secularism at the heart of the Cameron-Clegg government. Indeed, as Cameron's "red tory" sage Philip Blond reminds us: "we live in a time of failed conditions…. With words such as 'politics', [people] attempt to formalize the unformalisable and found secular cities upon it. They attempt to live in the in-between and celebrate ambiguity as the new social horizon."

      Blond (Ed.) Post-secular philosophy: between philosophy and theology (1998).

      • And that is why students should pay higher tuition fees.