Managing The Transparency Trade-Off
Imagine you’re the guest on a leadership podcast. The host turns to you and asks, “as a leader in a fast-growing team, how important is transparency to you?”
Instinctively you say something like,
“transparency is critical. I want to be open with my team. It’s part of the culture we’re building and reflects our values around trust and openness”.
Does any of that feel familiar? It’s a narrative I often hear in coaching sessions, and I love its intent. Being open in your team creates an environment where everyone can be fully engaged in your purpose and involved in solving your biggest challenges.
There is a “but” coming — transparency means that your entire team will have access to “in draft” thinking. That could mean half-formed strategies that change the direction of your company. Or it could mean a new structure or job descriptions that haven’t yet been approved or even proofread.
In each of these situations, team members will likely jump to conclusions about what it means for them, potentially causing unnecessary anxiety levels. Often they share those feelings with their peers, amplifying the anxiety or even toxicity across the team. This can be even harder to sense in a remote/hybrid working environment.
As my friend, Phil Hayes-St Clair, CEO and Co-Founder of DropBio, says,
“it’s the half-baked, half-cocked conundrum”.
The stress from seeing half-baked ideas causes us to go off half-cocked, doing things that heighten our emotions and aren’t productive.
The conundrum might leave you feeling you need to trade off transparency for team wellbeing and stability — that isn’t the case. With careful communication and ongoing reinforcement, it’s possible to maintain a balance.
Here are my suggestions for maintaining a balance between transparency and anxiety:
- Talk to the team about the trade-off. Outline your desire to be open, why it’s important and the problems it can create.
- Ask the team to assume good intent. Acknowledge that it can be unsettling to see unexpected information, reinforce that you’re always trying to do what’s best for the team and the company and ask everyone to reflect on that when they see something surprising.
- Establish an expectation to “meet” transparency. Good intent is a great start — but it’s likely not enough. It’s important to articulate the responsibility that accompanies transparency. What is it that you want the team to do? How do you want them to treat the information that they see or hear? What is their responsibility as a member of the team — both in terms of how they react and how they lead others around them?
- Make it clear (visually) that things are still in draft form. Today I was reminded by my friend and fellow coach Jacqui Jordan that the more ‘polished’ or final something looks, the more likely it is that your team members will react strongly to it. The draft form also helps people feel safe to contribute their ideas or concerns.
- Create space and safety for questions and feedback. In a transparent environment, your team are going to see and hear things that unsettle them. The opportunity here is to encourage them to ask questions, share their concerns and bring their best ideas rather than perpetuate the anxiety with their colleagues.
How would your team describe the level and effectiveness of transparency in achieving your goals? When was the last time you talked about it? I hope my thoughts are a helpful prompt for your next conversation. Let me know how it goes!