Silos

My current job is for a rather large nonprofit, with a whole lot of subdivisions, probably 40 or so that have paid staff. Siloing—the tendency of these subdivisions to not work with other units even when their projects are compatible, or even really should be one effort rather than two.

A few years ago we had an task force thingy* to discuss this problem. Representatives from all of the units, at least in all of the units in one of the types of subdivisions (there are three, I think) got together off-site for a day at a very Creative place, with bright walls and unmatched seating and toys on tables and faucets in the men’s room that didn’t extend far enough over the sink for you to be able to wash your hands, to discuss the problem.

After some group-work exercises (which really didn’t go all that well; in one of them our group failed because we refused to believe that we were subject to the laws of physics and mathematics, although it was hailed as a success anyhow), we spent the day talking. Some ideas came out, including “talk to those other units and hope that they listen” and “add a section to our annual evaluations about working with other units.” (At this point, it ought to be noted that our annual evaluations are, for most employees, 17 pages, but only the aggregate number from one to five is relevant for raises, and that’s a figure that’s easy to game.)

As you might guess, nothing came of this meeting.

At the museum where volunteer, I suppose I’m in a silo too: I know my interpretive duties, but I don’t really have anything more than a vague sense of the rest of the museum’s operations, and I certainly don’t have a clue about navigating the behind-the-scenes organization.

Now, that’s probably not normally a problem; someone who’s there twice a month doesn’t need to know a whole lot about grants or memberships or whatnot.

But I’m in a slightly different situation. I’m looking to get into museum marketing as a career, and in hopes of boosting these prospects**, I’ve (pre-)proposed a couple of projects that would fall at least in part under the aegis of marketing.

I’ve got a couple of people who are helping me to navigate this unusual if not unprecedented situation. But I’d love other advice as well. How do you get your ideas listened to when they’re coming from within a silo that typically wouldn’t generate them?

* There was a technical term. I don’t remember it.

** As well as because they’ll be interesting and fun to do, and because I think they can do good for the museum.

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