There is an interesting discussion going on in Linked-in on Silos.
Silo is one of those perjorative terms, which everyone assumes is BAD. And a lot of talk in KM circles is about "breaking down the silos", as if KM is anti-silo and therefore GOOD.
However as the discussion shows, silos are not all bad. There are three main areas of value to silos;
- they provide focus
- they develop a closely understood shared context
- they develop a fierce internal loyalty and feeling of "belonging"
Silos very often follow organisational heirarchy, but this is not always the case, and communities of practice can also form silos (see my blog post - "We build our own silos - groupthink in social media"). This excellent post, "The silo reconsidered", suggests that "the signature feature" of a silo is that it will develop an internal language. This is particularly true of communities of practice, and a community is often a group of people united by a common jargon.
Part of the key to success here seems to be to introduce "dual loyalties" or "dual belonging", so staff can feel deep team loyalty to their business silo, with a real drive towards business delivery, and at the same time can feel deep loyalty to their practice community, with a real drive towards communal practice development and knowledge sharing.
There is no harm in organisational silo structures, so long as we have INTERSECTING structures. The organisational silos form a vertical accountability/delegation/work breakdown structure, the Communities of Practice form a horizontal practice-based structure, and they intersect to form a connecting network that allows knowledge to flow freely wherever it needs to.
Silos deliver clarity of delivery, and clarity of accountability. What knowledge management can enable, is communication and learning between the silos, which makes that delivery easier and more effective. No need to break the silos down - just help them learn to talk and to learn from each other.