Team Communication & Information Transparency
Great cultures communicate often, clearly, and effectively. That’s doubly true of groups with lots of cognitive diversity, and therefore lots of opportunities to misunderstand each other.
Different types of teams, working on different types of challenges, will have different needs when it comes to information transparency. Sometimes it is entirely appropriate to keep some information private.
However, the general principle is this:
The more information we share with each other, the more we increase the chances of making breakthroughs together.
If you’re on the same team, with the same superordinate goal, there are relatively few truly good reasons to keep information from each other
A lot of societal norms around taboo topics either don’t make sense when scrutinized, or can be made better or no longer necessary to be taboo if we just share more information. E.g.:
It is common for people within a company to not share salary information with each other.
When we ask why, the fear expressed is often that some people will feel that they are being treated unfairly.
If being transparent about salaries indeed reveals that people are being treated unfairly, then sharing that information could actually pressure the group into doing the right thing: treating people more fairly by adjusting salaries.
If the team is being fair, but some people worry upon seeing salary information that it is not being fair, then sharing more information about why the salaries are the way they are will rectify the situation.
And now, with more information, the team can understand each other a little better, make better decisions, and feel a little more reassured that information that is kept from them is done so for good reasons.
Now, there could be some other valid reason to hide salary information from people. And that’s okay. But be honest with yourself. And also it’s a good idea to ask yourself, could that other reason be rectified/nullified with more information?
Groups that stop talking are groups that stop fully functioning
As we discussed in Lessons 2.1 and 2.2, a group of people that does not talk about the important issues, or that shies away from difficult conversations, cannot harness its full potential.
Research shows that “not talking” is a bigger leading indicator that both a marriage and a business partnership will soon dissolve than “having lots of fights.”
So a great culture keeps the group talking. How that group talks, however, makes all the difference. (See Lessons 3.2 – 3.5)
Anonymity is a response to distrust, not a way to create trust
If it does not feel safe to express an opinion or idea with your name attached to it, the leader of a team has failed to create psychological safety and therefore cannot harness the group’s full potential.
Requesting anonymous feedback or giving anonymous surveys reinforces the idea that it's risky to speak up.
Anonymity can be mistaken for objectivity, despite making it easier to push an opinion as fact, grind an axe, or peddle an outright lie. Because it doesn't allow for follow-up, anonymity can make dubious statements the final word. It assumes people giving feedback are unbiased.
Anonymous feedback presumes that the people who receive it will interpret it the way the people providing it intended, but it often isn’t.
Anonymity can set off an emotionally charged hunt for the person behind them, sowing frustration and fear rather than a good-faith effort to find solutions.
Anonymous feedback is often completely inactionable. With no chance for a conversation, it's impossible to tease out the nuances or check to see whether any remedies are working.
There are only two categories of instances where anonymity tends to be helpful in resolving workplace issues:
Anonymity can allow people to express unpopular ideas that might not otherwise get surfaced but are useful for sparking debate and different thinking. If it's not safe to go against the grain, an anonymous idea box can be helpful. However, if the team dynamic is right, it should be safe to express unpopular ideas anyway.
Anonymity can be important for reporting HR issues, like sexual harassment, in environments where coming forward is risky or unsafe for the victim. Unfortunately, if a specific issue is to be resolved, the identity of the accuser often has to be revealed confidentially to investigators. Not only does anonymous reporting make that difficult, it can even undermine trust that confidential allegations will be looked into seriously. This puts victims of mistreatment in a double bind, leading too many to simply not report issues.
Side conversations about important issues are a symptom of unhealthy culture
If people are having different conversations with each other than they are with the leader or other key people, it’s the sign of a problem.
Healthy cultures have no fear of saying what they need to to anyone.
If gossip and side conversations are a problem in your team, that means that either the leader has not created a safe environment to have the real discussions, members of the team are afraid or unwilling to say what they really think, or both.
In either case, the problem will persist and communication and culture will suffer until one or more people a) change, or b) leave.