- Living transparency, what does that actually mean?
- dissatisfaction is inevitable
- only together are we strong
- Exceptions to the rule
- How do I do that?
- Conflicts in the Management Team
In my professional life, I have already experienced many situations where one could have achieved much more with a little more transparency or, to put it bluntly, honesty. Of course, everything has its limits, but nevertheless, I am a fan of transparency, even in professional interactions - no matter how big the company may be! In one's own team, one should deal with each other openly and honestly.
There are several examples in my career that I would like to use as a starting point - of course, altered and changed so that no one feels attacked. If that should still be the case, please consider it a coincidence and not intentional.
Living transparency, what does that actually mean?
Do you know that feeling when you're in a meeting and phrases like "this is confidential" or "it must not leave this room" are being thrown around...
Why? What's the background? And most of the time, it's just embarrassing because it's meant to cover up a leader's weakness or because someone has some malicious intent.
For example, let's say the company you work for is being acquired. There are a bunch of meetings about how the merger can happen and how to make it a success. But very quickly, you realize that there are no actions following the bold words, and sometimes the complete opposite of what was said is being done.
And in cases like these, suddenly the conversations become terribly "confidential" and "top secret". And even though superficially nothing bad was discussed, everyone knew what was really going on. Unfortunately, they wanted to hide from the employees that the company was going to be closed anyway.
Honestly, everyone in the company had already figured it out. Everyone with a clear mind knew that this option was one of the more attractive ones. Cost reduction, centralization as keywords.
But why weren't the employees simply told what the plan was? It would have saved time, money, and a lot of anger!
Sure, it wouldn't have been easy, and some would have quit immediately. Openness is not always easy, especially in such a situation. But this secrecy also led to some leaders (in my opinion, the best ones) leaving right away because they didn't want to be dishonest with their team.
How would I handle this situation today?
I would probably just be honest with people (unless otherwise ordered from "above"), no secret meetings. We built the company together, so people have a right to know how the company is doing. And maybe with 60 heads, we can come up with a solution that works for everyone - something we couldn't achieve with 12 heads.
Of course, there is a danger that this could backfire. But that always happens with secrecy - rumors start swirling, as a leader, you have to give evasive answers to questions because the meetings were "secret" - and if you don't keep your mouth shut, you quickly get a warning.
I've had some experiences where this led to big problems. Suddenly, you have to spend a lot of time discussing how you work instead of actually doing the work. You have to invest a lot of time in keeping the rumors under control, without revealing too much of the "truth" or only what was defined as "official wording" in the meetings. It's a tightrope act. And unfortunately, it's not always easy - even for me. I've fallen off the tightrope before, to keep with the metaphor. That immediately creates a bad atmosphere in the management team.
dissatisfaction is inevitable
Even in situations where the company is not doing well, one should openly communicate with their employees. Because only then a feeling of togetherness, team spirit, arises. "We are all in this together" - it sounds so easy, but it's actually quite difficult when you don't even know why you should be pulling together.
There are several examples of companies where I have worked. One example was particularly extreme: The company I worked for had a dependency on software from another company. In secret meetings, it was decided to replace this software quietly and without informing anyone. This was also difficult to explain to the employees.
And as expected, it eventually came out and ended up in court - and we lost!
This worsened the situation in many ways - the company lost money, the company couldn't solve its dependency problem, and the employees solved problems "incorrectly" due to ignorance, which naturally led to diminishing motivation.
All in all, not a wise move by the management.
only together are we strong
A positive example: the start-up I worked for was just managing to stay afloat, as the investors (too many of them) were holding back on investments. Deadlines were set, but with the current financial situation, they would not have been achievable.
The management at the time called for an "All-Hands" meeting, in which the situation was explained in detail - of course, with a "strictly confidential" note, no one outside the company should know (that would have weakened the negotiating position with investors). Again, open words were spoken and everyone knew what the situation was.
Everyone understood this, everyone wanted to save the company, and we all worked together and sacrificed parts of our salaries (including the management team) to bridge the gap.
And so, the company was able to continue and shortly after, found a better investor, and the employees received the salary they had given up, plus a bonus on top - up until then, it was a true success story...
Exceptions to the rule
It is important to be mindful of what information is shared in a professional setting. There may be topics that are not yet relevant or should be avoided, such as employee issues. Openly discussing these topics may be seen as a way to motivate those affected, but it is more likely to have the opposite effect. Similarly, when engaging in conversations with colleagues, it is important to be aware of potential disagreements and conflicts that may arise..
Are you feeling frustrated when a certain topic is brought up? Do you find yourself in a bad mood after a meeting? Are you forced to make decisions in a certain way?
It's important to explain the situation without going into too much detail - only as far as necessary. This can help bring the team together, but it can also lead to a lack of communication within the company.
I would always suggest that you explain what is going on. Even if you're the type of person who doesn't show any emotion, you can still tell that something is wrong. At the end of the day, we're all human and that's something that can't be hidden.
How do I do that?
Especially in larger organizations, this is a real challenge, as confidentiality is often paramount. However, there is a way to start small: Every leader has the opportunity to be transparent. Even when it comes to meetings that should remain confidential, you can still make them transparent.
It's about discussing everything that concerns the team with the team. One of the more important topics in the team is clearly the hiring of new employees. They need to integrate into the team, and especially in a development team, I consider it essential that the team participates in this process. Because just one "wrong" team member can endanger the entire team.
I can report on some examples where this has happened.
Example 1, the Tinkerer: The boss hired someone without informing the team. This person had the right qualifications, but was a tinkerer. He spent days on minor issues instead of helping the team make progress. This caused discontent among the team members, and no one wanted to collaborate with him. He often declared "You can't do that, I have to do it", even when it wasn't true. It would have been better to involve the team members in the process.
Example 2, the Diva: This almost tore the team apart. In this case, it was about a developer who was truly brilliant, but lacked social skills. People were insulted, being called dumb if they didn't immediately understand something, etc. Again, the team would definitely have said "no" to hiring him.
Example 3, the Fanatic: This was really the worst. He was hired because he was "cheap". At that time (in the position of team lead), I had already spoken out against it, but was overruled by the former CTO. This developer was a proponent of Clean Code to the point of obsession. The problem was that the code became less readable and more incomprehensible as a result (I can post something about it on caluga.de if you'd like). Team members complained that the code was of poor quality. Both with him and later with me. It all culminated in discussions where the fanatic loudly expressed his opinion and called everyone else unworthy. Any other type of programming is wrong. Of course, this caused problems in the team and no one wanted to work with him anymore. I had to keep him busy with unpleasant projects alone, so he wouldn't bother anyone. Unfortunately, this led to a few resignations in the team. And his as well - although much too late. And my hands were tied, I should have let him go much earlier.
Therefore, it is important that ideally the entire team (or at least a part of it) is actively involved in recruiting. Only in this way can the likelihood of accidentally hiring a team-breaker be minimized.
So, in our current hiring process, there are several steps in which team members are involved, and finally, there is a longer meeting with the applicant, where they can and should get to know everyone.
Because: we are applying to the applicant just as much as they are applying to us!
But transparency and openness are also important here: I want to give the new applicant an honest picture of the situation, so they know what to expect when they arrive. That way, they won't be faced with a - depending on the situation - rude awakening.
In the application process, I am also open about the things that may not be going so well here, what we want to improve, and what we are currently working on. And so far, I have been very successful with this approach, as people know exactly what they are getting into.
Conflicts in the Management Team
The management team often faces a challenge in allocating resources. The IT team wishes to introduce a new technology, however the business has requested features that can be implemented faster with the new technology in the future, but would require weeks of investment at present.
It gets worse when different ideas are added to these conflicts about how to solve a particular task or who should wait for what and for how long. The conversations can get heated and uncomfortable - and personal!
Such moods are also brought into one's own team from such meetings. And here, too, transparency is important. You don't have to be too direct, but if you work closely with your team (like I do), a question about the meeting will come up. And then you answer truthfully...
Why? To prevent rumors! If you grumble to yourself and when a colleague asks how the meeting was and you answer "It was good" - then the rumor mill starts and speculation begins.
It has happened to me before that people in the hallway were talking about my resignation, even though that was not at all my issue... I didn't want to quit, but my dissatisfaction made it seem that way.
No, it's better to clearly state what the topic was and why - if someone is really interested.
I see it relatively clearly: this lack of transparency in many companies, this hiding of how things really are - is poison for the team and team spirit. With openness and transparency, one creates a trusting environment in which everyone can contribute and in which everyone interacts openly and honestly with each other. If as a leader one does not set an example for this, one should not be surprised that the team does not perform well... because the team is only as good as its leader. A leader who is open and honest with their team will create a team that is open and honest with each other. This creates an atmosphere of trust and respect, which in turn leads to better performance. Transparency and openness are essential for any team to succeed.