Idiom of the Day: Information Silos

silosAn information silo is an insular management system incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related information systems. The term was coined in 1988 by Phil S. Ensor who worked in organizational development and employee relations for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and Eaton Corporation. Ensor’s use of the term “silo” reflects his rural Illinois origins and the many grain silos he would pass on return visits as he contemplated the challenges of the modern organizations with which he worked.

The problems of information not being readily shared and personal responsibility not being assumed are old ones. As Ranjay Gulati, a Harvard Business School professor who has spent 15 years studying silos, said: “Adam Smith spoke about the problem of labor silos. Events like 9/11 could have been prevented if there had been more sharing of information across organizational divisions.” See We’ve All Got GM Problems by Rana Foroohor for more on the silo problem at General Motors.