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Are there silos in our wards?
By Orson Scott Card February 3, 2011

A well-known problem in large corporations -- and many small ones -- is the development of "silos." Each department or the workers doing each kind of job begin to have more solidarity with each other than with the company as a whole.

The result is that instead of one company culture, all the sections act as if they worked in silos, towers that rise in isolation ... and have nothing to do with each other.

A business that has been thoroughly ensiloed will see constant turf wars, each department fighting for its own concerns, blaming all failings on the lack of cooperation from other departments.

Each department will think its own work to be misunderstood and undervalued by the others, while at the same time undervaluing the others in turn. So the marketing department scorns the product designers as living in isolation, customer service feels disrespected by sales, and accounting and human resources feel resented by everybody.

This isn't a problem unique to business, though. No organization is as thoroughly ensiloed as a university, for instance, unless it's government, and the results are debilitating and destructive to all.

Can silos develop in a Mormon village -- the ward?

At first glance it seems inevitable. Each ward is divided into vertical compartments.

Primary, Relief Society, Young Women, the Aaronic priesthood, Sunday school, the Melchizedek priesthood -- if you have a calling in one of these, people who spend their time in one of the others may have no idea who you are or what you do.

Quick, men -- name the Relief Society instructors in your ward. Sisters, can you name the elders quorum counselors? The high priests group leadership? That couple you never see anymore -- are they inactive or teaching Primary?

The top person in each "silo" is likely to be known, but we often lose track of what others are doing.

Paul understood the problem when he warned the Corinthians, "The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you" (1 Cor. 12:21).

Fortunately, while the problem does exist in all wards to some degree, the solution is built into our non-career, no-tenure system of lay ministry. The stake president today might be a Primary teacher tomorrow.

If you've been a Primary teacher, it's hard to regard the work of the Primary as trivial or to dismiss Primary callings as "less important." In fact, you're likely to hold Primary teachers in high esteem, knowing the difficulties they must overcome and the powerful changes they can make in the lives of children.

Now, a man is never going to hold a Relief Society or Young Women calling -- those organizations are permanently siloed off from the priesthood quorums.

But any man who has ever served in a bishopric or as a conscientious home teacher knows how vital the Relief Society is to the ward, and you can't be an effective Young Men's presidency if you don't work closely with and have great respect for the presidency of the Young Women.

On top of that, if a man's wife has ever served in either organization and he has been at all supportive of her labors, he knows what the women's organizations do ... and is glad that men don't expect each other to work that hard.

(For instance, men don't have to come up with decorations when they teach or put on a meal.)

The fact that anyone might hold callings in any organization -- or be married to someone who does -- means that the silo walls are constantly broken open, with tunnels and bridges connecting them at many points.

Someone who has served too long in Young Women may dread a Primary calling; and those who serve in Primary or the library or the nursery too long at a stretch may come to feel cut off from the rest of the ward.

But an alert bishopric makes sure that nobody is kept in the same silo for too long -- even if they want to be.

The visible silos show up on the ward organizational chart. But there are invisible silos that can lead to real harm.

If you view a ward as a business, it is a service, and from week to week the activity that engages most of the members is ... teaching and being taught.

The ward is also constantly alert to people's physical needs -- illness, injuries, financial crises.

There are cultural activities to plan and put on -- plays, suppers, dances, basketball tournaments, courts of honor.

But Sunday worship is only as good and effective as the teaching.

The talks in sacrament meeting are teaching. Home teaching and visiting teaching are, in fact, teaching. Everybody teaches.

(Most stake callings are also teaching -- for instance, stake Relief Society presidencies train and advise their counterparts in the ward; high councilors speak (teach) in sacrament meeting, and advise and train bishoprics.)

But those with teaching callings, who build their Church lives around next week's lesson, are set apart from those who have no weekly lesson to prepare.

So you can divide a ward into those who teach, week after week ... and those who don't. But it's a little more complicated than that.

Invisible silos divide a ward into four main groups:

Teachers -- who might be regarded as footsoldiers in the ongoing war against ignorance and complacency.

Recorders -- clerks, secretaries, librarians, and program printers who collect information and pass it along to those who require it.

Musicians -- accompanists, conductors, and choristers, who have learned skills that the Church needs, but does not train us in.

Deciders -- presidencies and bishoprics.

Notice that I did not call that fourth silo "leaders," because the actual work of leadership, strictly defined, is done at least as much by teachers in each classroom and by musicians leading congregations as by bishoprics and presidencies, and they need and use leadership skills at least as much.

These invisible silos can be far more persistent than the formal, easily visible kind. A teacher can be moved from Primary to Sunday School to priesthood or Relief Society or Young Women and yet remain a teacher always.

Musicians have been known to grumble, now and then, "I wish I'd never learned to play the piano so well -- people in the ward think that's all I can do."

(And those making the callings have no choice but to think: If we call this musician to be a teacher or decider, who will play the piano?)

When deciders find an excellent, reliable recorder -- an executive secretary, a clerk, a program printer -- they often remain in their callings for years and years, and then are released only to find themselves in another recorder calling.

Just because people are excellent at their work in one silo does not mean that their blend of skills and knowledge and experience might not be valuable in one of the others.

It's even more complicated by the fact that far more prestige attaches to the decider callings than any others. And it often happens, particularly among the men in a ward, that some are regarded as deciders and some as nondeciders, and when decider callings open up, no one on the nondecider list is seriously considered -- or so it can seems, sometimes, to those in the nondecider silos.

If wonderful teachers or musicians or recorders spend their entire Church lives in the callings they excel at, they have kept their stewardship exactly as well as deciders who do a wonderful job.

It's worth remembering that those at the peak of the decider pyramid -- the prophets, seers, and revelators of the Church -- have their primary effect on the members of the Church through their teaching -- their talks in General Conference and other meetings, and the books and articles they write.

And while the decisions Jesus made -- the disciples he called, the journeys he led them on -- were vital, and his service to the sick and afflicted was a great blessing, most of what we have of his mortal ministry -- and most of what he did prior to the atonement itself -- was his teaching.

Do the deciders of the ward and stake make it clear, by their actions as well as words, that they value those in other silos as highly as they value the people in their own?

Do they consult with them individually or just announce decisions that affect them? Do the people outside the decider silo feel known, let alone respected?

Those silo walls can seem impermeable, and resentments or disappointments or self-doubts can arise that the onward-charging deciders have no idea of.

People in the other silos cannot insert themselves into the decider silo. It is the responsibility of the deciders to get to know those who slog on, reliably serving in the teacher, recorder, and musician silos, notice their achievements, hear their concerns, and take them into account.

Often it is the teachers who know their students better than anyone; often the recorders have ideas and information which, it they were only consulted, might help the deciders make wiser decisions.

Musicians can lose heart when musically ignorant deciders dictate without consultation what music may or may not be used.

Statements of love, praise, and support are empty when the teachers, recorders, and musicians know the deciders never ask, never listen, and seem not to care what they actually do.

Few in the decider silo would make the mistake of burying their own talents. But if they don't break down those silo walls, they run a strong risk of burying somebody else's, or letting others feel as if they had.

On the other hand, by asking, listening, and knowledgeably praising, deciders have the power to erase those silo walls and help everyone be joyful in their stewardships.

Copyright © 2011 by Orson Scott Card

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