Transparency begets trust and trust begets transparency. It isn’t easy and it feels unsafe to bare your process and sometimes soul. Talking about the thing you least want to talk about has been something that has helped our team address the weirdness that exists between our people and processes. But it wasn’t always like this. We used to ignore or only privately address what needed to be discussed the most.
A few months ago, during a period when a lot of new hires were starting and suffering from imposter syndrome, I tried to reinforce our culture of transparency and honesty by telling my team that I wouldn’t hire myself for our team. I assume that isn’t something that most managers admit and I explained my rationale. I’m not a strong enough coder to hang with them. I don’t complement the personalities we have. I don’t bring enough of a unique perspective as an individual contributor. It pains me to even write this, let alone tell my teammates that this is how I feel. Doing this led to a bunch of other team members describing their version of imposter syndrome and clearly put the junior members at ease. That is all to say, that saying the thing I least wanted to say helped build trust with the newest folks and let them know what I worry about which means they can be more sure when I’m confident. Always acting one way or another isn’t natural. Transparency, therefore, may start with the act of humanizing yourself and being vulnerable.
Team buy-in is tough to earn. It is much easier when the process is created and enforced by the team. As the manager, I can try to keep it on guardrails, but determining it and enforcing it myself would be a mistake. Maybe this isn’t sustainable with a bigger team. What if all the laws in this country were determined democratically by the entire population. It would be way too heavy. But with a team of 13, this is still possible and it is so much stronger when the policing is done by the team rather than me.
Transparency communicates trust. Exposing our vulnerabilities as an individual or an organization encourages candor and self-reflection. Putting a positive spin on everything doesn’t equate to boosted morale because it leads to whispers, eye rolling and eyebrow raising in the hallways. It is human nature to latch onto weaknesses, failures, and negatives and so if these deficiencies are not squashed publicly then they fester. They use rumors as sustenance and mutate in unpredictable ways. Talking about the hardest things right away is painful, but a preferable alternative to passively deferring to hearsay.
Transparency is hard. Generals must be able to make decisions. Soldiers must follow orders. We run into trouble is when soldiers don’t buy into the purpose or mission. Even the most ardent followers will lose enthusiasm over time if they don’t feel like they can influence the decision making process. And so what we find is people will do enough to keep their job. They half-heartedly go through the motions. In short order, that becomes the norm and apathy is a difficult virus to contain. And so while we can’t ask everyone for their input on every decision, if we know what is important to our people, we can ask them at the right times. This requires the decision maker to actually know their people and that takes a serious investment. Do you have time for that? I guess that’s up to you, but second guessing, rumor squashing, and low-morale also eats up time so maybe this would be worth some investment.