Change is Good

“Can you Hear me Now?” Why Silo Mentality is Crippling your Lab

Jon Wetzel
Contributor: Jon Wetzel
Posted: 06/29/2011

In any large organisation there is the tendency to break a process down to specialised groups to work on samples. The problem is that these groups forget the importance of communicating with each other and operate independently on their own agendas.

Death by meetings

How often have you been in the situation where you’ve identified a problem upstream or downstream of your part of the process and been told by your boss “I’ll bring it up at the monthly operations meeting.”

The problem exists NOW, you’ve identified there’s an issue that needs to be addressed however you can’t just go to the person in the other department to talk about it.

It has to go up the chain of command, through a meeting to a different manger then down to their staff.  Maybe you’ll get a response in a month at the next meeting.

Top Down problem solving

Conversation and communication in labs can take on a hierarchical approach where information and problem solving is only communicated on the higher levels and decisions and actions are mandated downward.

It’s become a mixture:

  • Inter-office politics
  • Command and control mentality
  • Success is defined by individual departments and not by company goals.
  • I have a higher degree so I must know more about your work than you do.

Symptoms of a Silo

The easiest way to tell if your lab is a silo is to identify some of the following:

  • You don’t know where your samples come from, how they got there or where they go when you’re done.  You only know how much you processed and that’s the only metric your department cares about.
  • There is no map of the entire process …just everyone “knows it” or thinks they do.
  • You don’t use or know peoples names.  Ex.  “the people in pathology” instead of “Susan in pathology”.
  • You talk about problems with other departments in the secrecy of the lunchroom and aren’t allowed to solve any of them without written approval from your superiors.
  • You’re looking for a new job because no one is listening.

Cure for the common Silo

You can kill the silo very easily by requiring more interaction between groups on a daily basis. 

  1. Decrease the WIP (Work in Process) so departments need to schedule with each other more often on the bench instead of in meetings.  People will need to interact more across departments and act as a team to keep things running.
  2. Keep an eye on the managers and supervisors that resist communication.  They might not be team players and prefer their little “fiefdom” be left alone.  They also might not be the best fit for your future lean company.
  3. Have each department ask 3 questions of the department upstream and downstream of their process:
    1. What do we do that helps you?
    2. What do we do that causes you problems?
    3. What can we do to make your job easier?


Family is important

No CEO want’s a silo in his/her organisation.  It’s like being a parent and having a family that doesn’t talk to each other except during holidays, weddings and funerals.

I think we can all agree that silo’s are bad.  Now the next step is starting the conversation to solve the issue.  “Can you here me NOW?”

Jon Wetzel
Contributor: Jon Wetzel
Posted: 06/29/2011

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