Transparency: Drop the Assumptions

Of all the values that drive teams to work differently, transparency has the most potential to transform your life and your business. Think of how hard it’s been historically to be truly transparent with enough of your fellow employees to make a real difference to how your organization thinks.

  • You could send out a company-wide email, but the expectation is that the subject is monumental enough to be rare, so you’re unlikely to do this on a daily or even weekly basis. And you certainly won’t do this unless you’re in the company leadership.
  • You could print out your work plans and post it in the cafeteria. What about all the people working remotely? And who stops to read signs or wants to at lunch?
  • You could have a daily company-wide standup meeting. If your company is larger than 10 people, how’s that going to go?
  • You could rely on the informal watercooler chatter to get word around… it’s often efficient… at spreading misinformation.

Transparency is now easy. You just have to make a different decision about how you’re going to communicate. The concepts of forums, file shares, and digital team task management isn’t very new of course, but how many file attachments do you still get in email? How many times do you have to catch up newcomers to an email thread about the conversation fork that was resolved yesterday? Yeah, I thought so.

Teams that make open work and transparency a core value–an integral part of the culture–stand a much better chance of actually embracing these collaboration tools that have been around in one incarnation or another for decades. How do you “sell” transparency to your team? What’s in it for them?

For me, the most convincing argument has been the importance of dropping your assumptions about who “needs to know.” Our organizations are too complex to believe that you know everyone that will be impacted or might have some valuable input on your project or idea. Even small organizations need to rely on extended communities and partners to account for potential ripples and integrations.

Stop assuming who needs to know

A simple analogy, provided to me by Eric Kraus , is a (US) football team huddle. Even if the play being called is simple long pass to the wide receiver, and only two key players are involved, all of the players in the huddle hear the play. They all have a role to play. They all need to know the play in case the defense does something unexpected and they have to react instantly. The quarterback doesn’t make any assumptions about who needs to know.

Put differently… well, Felix Ungar delivered this line better than anyone:

There isn’t a soul on this planet that knows all the answers. It takes the collective wisdom of the team, becoming truly inclusive of members from all backgrounds and expertise, to meet the challenges of a frenetic market full of disruption.

Now, don’t confuse transparency with… oversharing. There’s room for both embracing transparency and common sense. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s about a default stance.