The literature is full of suggestions to break down silos which build over time within large organizations.

I was wondering why they form in the first place. Is there maybe a benefit or a psychological reason for this tendency?

2 Answers 2


Silo's form due to local optimization of team or department goals over the goals of the whole organization. For a stark example, let's pretend I have a database team who is measured on database performance, up-time, and data integrity. Allowing others to make changes to the database can put all of these at risk, even if it means faster delivery of features or a more effective application overall. The team starts walling off their work and only focusing on their work - some time passes and you get silos.

This doesn't have to be technical concerns that create local optimization. I worked one place where a manager's bonus was based off of headcount, which in turn was based off of how much work a particular team had, so as a manager, I would be financially motivated to not let anyone do any of "our" work. This also led to extreme silo'ing. In all cases, it is reenforced by local optimization.

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    This answer cannot be really be topped; merely expanded. Enterprise companies tend to punish failure worse than rewarding innovation so the default behaviour is geared towards stability not breaking down silos. A 60 year Platform Manager with 5 years to his pension is not going to allow some last minute code change to his platform without good reason. The flip side is; silos can work in your favour with long term staff. People who have worked together for 30 years tend to have a shadow currency of favours and trust and can get stuff done. Always be wary who you complaining about silos to. May 9, 2018 at 13:01

Daniel's answer is a great description of things that reinforce or exacerbate silos. The ultimate root cause has go to do with a group's sense of identity. Tribes are silos. So are countries (and they jostle to protect/further their own interests).

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