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Mastering Silos

Silos are rife in organisations. This book gives lessons on breaking through the structural fog that clouds a company's vision.

The Silo Effect : Why Putting Everything in its Place isn't Such a Bright Idea by Gillian Tett

PAGES: 290

PRICE: Rs 599


If you talk to companies such as Philips, Accenture, Unilever that have recently redone their workplaces, there is a new focus on introducing architectural designs that will break silos in the offi ce. So they have created areas where people from different departments will bump into each other and be forced to talk to each other. Collaboration is the new theme at most forward looking workplaces.

World over organisations are beginning to realise that working in silos can be debilitating for business. Gillian Tett, the British financial journalist who authored Fool's Gold, a book on the great fi nancial crisis of 2008, is convinced that the reason for the disaster was because the modern fi nancial system operated in a very fragmented set up. "Everywhere I looked in the fi nancial crisis, it seemed that tunnel vision and tribalism had contributed to the disaster," she writes.

Tett, who interestingly has a PhD in cultural anthropology, an unusual background for someone writing on the global economy and banking systems, leverages her training to make sense of the silos. The world may be one interconnected global village but people continue to live in silos, and this is what is trapping them in mental maps that inhibit innovation, feels Tett.

It's a thought provoking book because as [author Gillian] Tett points out, living in specialised silos might make life seem more effi cient in the short term

The book is replete with examples of companies that made the mistake of getting boxed into silos as well as companies that challenged them. Sony is a classic case of the former while Facebook is a heartwarming example of the latter. The irony is that the powers that be at Sony realised what ailed the company. In 2005, Howard Stringer, the CEO of Sony Corporation, tried attacking it much to the baffl ement of Japanese engineers for whom the term silo was an alien one. In fact, so alien was it that the translator was forced to describe silo as an octopus pot - a narrow container into which the octopus slides into but fi nds impossible to exit. Unfortunately while Stringer had astutely diagnosed Sony's problems, he was unable to implement the cure.

Tett juxtaposes Sony's failed attempt with Facebook's unique fl uid social code that kept silos at bay. Its work practices are unstructured and the organisation is less plagued by internal rivalries or rigidities, writes Tett, pointing out that very secret of its success was to marry quantitative computing skills with soft analysis about humans' social ties. From shuffl ing teams constantly to organising hackathons that would throw engineers from different streams together at an overnight marathon session, Facebook did many social experiments to fi ght and break silos.

Tett is a great storyteller and she organises the book beautifully, moving from examples from anthropology - a rather quaint vignette from life in a village in south west France where social changes have created a bit of a tragedy for the menfolk - to examples of banks and corporations and even individuals. The detailed case studies of the organisations are particularly insightful.

And then fi nally, she weaves together all the narratives to present lessons and ideas on mastering silos. Be it rotating staff, devising collaborative pay systems that would force people to think as groups or opening up information fl ows, there is lots that can be done. Technology has, recently, proved to be a great aid in silo busting. It's a thought provoking book because as Tett points out, living in specialised silos might make life seem more effi cient in the short term. But it will also mean missed risks and opportunities.

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