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17 January 2019
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So long, silos

20 May 2014  

It’s high time that someone stood up in defence of silos. Because you have to admit, something has gone badly wrong with their PR.

Not too long ago, silos enjoyed considerable respect and appreciation. Whether for the bulk storage of grain or missiles, they were much-valued members of the built environment community. Silos performed the admirable role of keeping one thing apart from another, very different thing. But then, one day, someone prepping for a conference presentation looked up at the organigram on his or her monitor and thought, “Actually, you know what that looks like?”.

Thus, the dependable old silo became a metaphor for inexcusable communication barriers, synonymous with those organisational departments that fail to fully integrate with their other departmental siblings. (Silos and synergies, you see – they just don’t rub along.)

Today, woe betide anyone who isn’t seeking to step out of, break free from or generally disassociate themselves from silos. It’s even bad to be in possession of a “silo mentality”, as if that’s a condition in need of medical treatment. DJs who play songs with ‘silo’ in the lyrics have even lost their jobs. Possibly.

It’s easy to see how the metaphorical silo came to symbolise inter-organisational communication issues, especially those that prevent the impact and value of FM from being as visible across business as it should be. Two weeks ago in this colummn I lauded the format for this year’s ThinkFM. It was good that senior personnel from other membership organisations – those whose own interests can be furthered through the success of FM – had a platform at the BIFM’s showcase event. What I wasn’t to know was the extent of work going on behind the scenes; BIFM’s announcement of a partnership with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) was a great way to round off last Tuesday’s event.

“We wanted to make sure that the views of these two vital communities of professionals are brought together,” said BIFM CEO Gareth Tancred. “We want them to share their thinking and work together to bridge the gap between people and place as we aim to add to the next instalment of the workplace’s evolution.”

This is an entirely logical development; if membership organisations are to be truly reflective of the needs of their members, they must consider the merits of partnering with institutes representing activities that are complementary to their own specialism – breaking out of their own institutional silos, if you will. In the case of the CIPD, it’s easy to make the case that well-designed and managed facilities benefit the aims of an organisation’s personnel department. CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese spoke of being pleased “to be working with our colleagues in the facilities management industry to explore the issues, and to find solutions to the challenges they bring.” Note that word ‘colleagues’ – ultimately, BIFM and CIPD are equally invested in the provision of business support.

So, as well as moving away from a “silo mentality” within organisations, we’re also moving away from any “silo mentality” within the institutes that represent them. We’re looking forward to reporting the projects that will soon be emanating from this breakthrough collaboration.

Martin Read is managing editor at FM World