Growing up in the Midwest we would see large grain tanks on most family farms. The flatlands would allow you to see these tanks for a few miles in most directions. They store corn or soybeans to feed the cows and other livestock, or they are used to store grain for selling to the market at the right time.
Having been in a few silos myself, the corn dust is brutal and can suffocate you without proper ventilation. The scary part is getting caught in one as it’s emptying and the vacuum of multiple little solids moving downward gives you no traction and the suction pulls you down. The inside of one these silos is really not a good place to be.
There’s another meaning of the word silo, and it’s not a good place to be as well:
Silo: a system, process, department, etc., that operates in isolation from others.
I have seen this practice of working in isolation at some water and wastewater facilities. This isolation occurs when staff members or an entire department within an organization do not want to work together, and do their own thing. Sometimes they do not have the adequate means to share information, but mainly they want to keep knowledge for themselves. Siloed teams can often lead to a whole lot of internal and external problems for employees, their leaders, and especially, customers.
In my opinion, it's vital that team members step out of their silos and start working together.
Silos lead to duplicate work, inefficiency, bad customer service, and bad morale for employees at a core level. When communication and transparency between departments breaks down, it becomes problematic; people develop tunnel vision and are solely focused on their own areas of work, which can become dysfunctional. They often lose sight of the big picture of the utility and its goals of serving their community.
Signs of an organizational silo are:
- Poor Customer Service – This could be the worst thing for your utility or company. We are in the customer service business! Ultimately, it’s our primary mission. Serving our customers with clean potable drinking water or the removal and treatment of waste streams for a clean and healthy environment is what they expect. Responding to our customers and solving their issues is the goal.
- “Us Versus Them” Mentality – Not a good place to be! I have seen disregard for cooperation at various utility departments or at training classes where there is some sort of friction between departmental areas, or even shifts.Water versus wastewater—wait, what?! Some of this in done in humor, but when it‘s real, it does not do any good for the employees, the utility, or its customers. When the departments for water and wastewater do not work directly together in the same facility or shift, problems will occur. They need to see the importance of each role, and water and wastewater working together solves some common issues. Remember, we are doing the same functions at different ends of the cycle. We need all employees to do their tasks to accomplish the mission of continued operation of service to our customers. So I encourage you to work alongside your brothers and sisters and be professional operators and technicians to accomplish this goal!
- Internal Unfamiliarity – Larger operations often may have this issue, when workers don’t know who is responsible or what process is used for accomplishing tasks internally. To remedy this, break down the barriers and have processes documented for all to know the proper methods and forms for accomplishing internal tasks. Another good thing is know the people in your organization by their first names. Familiarity of team members will help things move more efficiently and improve morale.
- Disenfranchised or Protectionist Employees – When employees are caught up in others things unrelated to the mission and distracted from the core goals of the utility, problems will occur. Some employees protect their area of responsibility (mostly out of fear), which can make an organization much less efficient. Some employees totally disengage from their duties by using avoidance methods, which can also be damaging. These must be avoided! Togetherness should be practiced and being on the same page at all times should be a goal for all employees. By doing this, work production and satisfaction will increase.
The main thing to do to avoid silos is to keep communicating a positive unified message of the goals and ideas of your organization. The leaders should create a vision that shows how each team member fits into the overall structure.
In our industry, we work for the public, and servicing our customers is our primary mission. Our task of producing water, treating wastewater, and maintaining the systems necessary to provide these functions is a secondary goal to the overall mission. In each of our teams, the primary focus is keeping things operational, flowing, and in compliance, which in turn serves the customers of our community!
Bringing teams together and communicating at all times will promote concepts that support togetherness and cooperation and not allow silos to exist; working together on projects or operational challenges will also help to avoid them. Cross-departmental meetings and teambuilding events will help in this area, too. Sharing a situation where teams go through difficult situations, but by all members working together come out of it stronger, will encourage others to emulate the behavior. Or simply sharing a meal or providing food to the team goes a long way to help in the common experience and lead to a stronger team. So eat up!
Common training activities and goals will also help. Train all of your employees to support teamwork instead of avoiding it. Staff members helping each other to learn their tasks and jobs better will be a powerful tool supporting the team.
Getting leaders for each department to be on the same page of the organization and share the overall vison is important, too. This can be done by bringing them together to show how important teamwork really is. When cooperation is exhibited by team leaders, the team members will learn to work better together—with those inside and outside their departments.
As you can see, silos are not just for corn. They stand in the way of innovation and growth. They should be avoided and are a source of an internal contention that can lead a team astray and in the wrong direction. Who really wants to operate in a negative environment? So keep on communicating and leading yourself in the right direction for your team!
Happy Veterans Day!
The membership of FWPCOA is now over 5400 statewide. Many of these members are United States military veterans and I thank you all!
Many are highly involved leaders of FWPCOA. Some members I know of who are veterans and work very hard for the association include Tom King (Army), Walt Smyser (Navy), Ken Enlow (Air Force), Ray Bordner (Marines), Phil Donovan (Army), and Brad Haynes (Army). I’m sure there are many others members (who I’m not aware of as I write this) who also selflessly served our country.
I thank you for your service to FWPCOA as well. Many involved members have carried this same spirit and poured it into the association and our industry, which is commendable.
The veteran spirit of public service, duty, and honor is a great core principle. Many water and wastewater professionals share some of these same principles by serving the public again for their postmilitary service careers by treating and delivering water and treating and collecting wastewater to serve their community. These “silent sentinels” on watch over many phases of our industry operate, repair, rebuild, analysis, coordinate, and manage water, wastewater, and stormwater systems day and night in their professional roles.
For many Americans, Veterans Day is a great way to remember the hard work and the service of these men and women to keep our country free, and it’s also a great way to thank them. I’m proud that many of the members of our operators association have served to defend freedom! I thank each and every one of you for your service to our country and to the water/wastewater industry.
God Bless America!