Three Questions that Leaders Are Afraid to Answer Honestly

There’s lots of good information on how to break down communication, organization and information silos. But isn’t it all moot if you don’t know how these things develop?

The last thing you want to do is put in the time, money and effort to rid your operation of silos—only to have them creep back in.

Here are three questions too many leaders are afraid to address, almost ensuring they’ll create more silos.

#1: Do the Goals for My Area Conflict with Those for Other Departments—or the Organization as a Whole?

For too many, the annual goal-setting process has become rote. After all, it’s unusual that the organization is in a totally different business than it was last year.

Our brains are lazy. Most often, we’d rather rely on what we’ve already done than come up with something new. So we just tweak the stuff from last year.

Plus many organizations connect “goals” with “budgeting”: this is what we can achieve if someone gives us the dough. Or worse: these are they goals “they” told us we have to reach—no matter how much funding we get.

So our goals are developed in a vacuum. We probably don’t know how they relate to other departments’ goals (because we likely were checking emails during their part of the too long and windy annual planning session).

And chances are good that our people don’t know how our goals fit in with those for the overall company. In the book The Strategy-Focused Organization, the authors wrote, “A mere 7% of employees today fully understand their company’s business strategies and what’s expected of them in order to help achieve company goals.”

This results in our people seeing things from their perspective. They’re more likely to make choices to protect their department than look after the good of the company.

#2: Does Information Primarily Come from the Top Down—But Not Back Up?

We all know what flows downhill.

As leaders, we can spend lots of time crafting our messages and polishing them to a fine sheen. When we deliver these, we’re shocked that our people don’t respond in the positive way we expected.

Many times that happens because the messages are all about us, and our people don’t know what’s in it for them.

Research cited by Clear Company indicates 90% of employees believe leaders should seek other opinions before making a final decision. Yet 40% believe decision makers “consistently failed” to do this.

It’s true: we all suffer from confirmation bias. Once we hold an opinion, we look for information that supports this and discount ideas that don’t. That’s the silo in our heads. (Here’s a short article on that.)

And how often do we not really want other opinions—from our teams or colleagues? We just prefer to tell people what to do and have it done. Even though we know that people are a lot more invested in the success of a project or solution if they help create it …

When people don’t believe we value their experience and ideas, they stop sharing them. (Instead, they grumble to other employees.) This creates information silos in our teams.

And evolves into the story I hear too often. Management comes up with a new idea and starts implementing it. An employee tells me, “I thought of that three years ago.” When I ask why he didn’t mention it sooner, he replies, “No one asked me.”

#3: Do We Truly Promote Trust in Our Area and Throughout the Organization?

Chances are good that “trust” and “respect” and “integrity” show up in your value statement.

But a survey by Gallup says, “Only 27% of employees strongly believe in their company’s values, and less than half strongly agree that they know what their organization stands for and what makes it different.”

This leads people to hoard information—in an effort to feel safe. They share data, ideas and processes with the ones they trust in their area, not in the whole department, division or company.

Your managers turn into suspicious gatekeepers: a mindset that’s contagious. It’s no wonder that you can be surprised not only by what’s happening in other departments or business units, but even your own.

Collaboration Is Not the Cure for Silos

Experts—and technology platform gurus—tell us collaboration is the cure for silos.


How can you get people to collaborate when they’ve never been rewarded for this? When they know there are limited resources and suspect other departments are getting more than their fair share—or know they are and don’t want to lose that? Or even if you’re great at leading your people but other company executives aren’t?

Don’t go out and hire a solution. Answer these three questions as honestly as you can. Then go to your people, ask them the same questions, and actively listen: without judgment, justification or giving advice. Your interest, caring and goodwill are contagious—and a great place to start.