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Knocking down the silos

POSTED: April 3, 2013 4:00 a.m.

I stood on an oil rig miles off the coast of Africa as the final pipe joints were pulled from a just completed well. The mood was somber because we had not found oil. The following week I sat in an uncomfortable meeting where our corporate vice president declared my efforts had resulted in the driest well in years.

Back in my office overlooking the beautiful San Francisco hills I pondered what to do next with the project.

Simplistically, oil is found in two types of traps.

Most common at that time were structural traps, which, meant the oil was found in bumps or folds within the earth. Off Africa these were common and easy to find.

The second were stratigraphic traps or places where the oil just could not move further due to changes in the rock or sealing mechanism. These were much harder to find and this was what I had been chasing on my dry well.

Something made me pull out all of my hand colored maps, charts and data logs.

Why had it not gone right? What was I missing? A conversation with friends that evening started a renewal of the project although it had to be after hours.

My friends were from different departments within the corporation. We all worked on drilling, geology, geophysics, micropaleontology and organic chemistry. The problem was we did not work together as a team.

For decades the corporation had kept our departments separate; like silos. We traded reports and presentations, but seldom did we actually work together in the same office.

Now we drug out all our respective information, hauled it across the office campus and started looking at things from an encompassing perspective.

It seemed to us that the earth was one massive organic object spinning through space. We decided to look at our problem as one organization. This was a novel and rather disruptive concept. Our disciplines were taught in different parts of a university so our old managers organized the corporate departments the same way.

After a few months of working undercover we approached our bosses and made the pitch to let us work on the problem as a team. It took some arguing, but finally they agreed.

Our young team set up shop in a conference room and the magic ideas we pulled from our data spread like wildfire throughout our organizations.

The vice-president took a gamble and I soon found myself on the drilling rig again.

This time we hit oil. Within two more years we had defined one of the largest stratigraphic oil fields found in Africa.

It still provides oil for your gasoline to this day.

But the greater implication was that within only a few months the organizational structure of our corporation changed. Now all wells were looked at in a team fashion just like we had done. Certainly we were not the only ones that came up with the idea.

I know other companies' young hires started the same trends elsewhere. We all knocked down organizational silos.

When you look around you visualize how many organizational silos exist in your firm or in your life. Do they really serve a valuable purpose? I got to hear the renowned Ray Kurzweil recently speaking about the disruptions coming in the next decade that will further change and improve our world. They will come in healthcare, education and of course computing.

He said the disruptions will force many siloed organizations to change. I related. The silos will continue to tumble just as our young team made them fall years ago.

We did not set out to destroy silos, we simply set out to solve a problem and the silos got in our way.

Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.

 

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