How to Make Transparency a Reality in Your Team: 5 Tried and Tested Ways

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Written by: Tobias Günther

How do you translate a lofty concept — like “transparency” — into real, tangible change in your team?

A tricky question, I know… But your success as a founder / leader / manager depends heavily on this very skill. Because your job is not to count people’s working hours, grant their vacation requests, or put their coffee cups in the dishwasher.

Your job is to improve the organization. And if you can really bring something like “transparency” alive in your team, you’ve hit a home run.

5 Concrete Ways to Make Transparency Real

In past essays, I’ve written about the importance and the pitfalls of transparency. In this post, finally, I’d like to give some concrete examples of how to actually implement it in an organization.

What follows are five ways to do this, tried and tested in my own companies and in the companies of members of our “Building Better Teams” masterclass.

#1: Explain and give reasons for your decisions

You can make the best decision in the world. But if your colleagues don’t know why this particular decision turned out the way it did, you’re running a hefty risk!

Because chances are your colleagues will start to wonder… and find their own explanations, which don’t have to be correct!

The solution is obvious: we need to prevent our colleagues from worrying, ruminating, and speculating before they get a chance to start.

How? By being transparent about our decisions! By making it a habit to explain them thoroughly.

Remember that it doesn’t really matter if your decision was “good” or “bad”. It’s not about the quality of a decision. It’s about including people.

👉 Putting it into action: What recent decision could you explain more thoroughly? How and where: in 1-on-1s, in an all-hands meeting, …?

#2: Talk about strategy, roadmaps and goals

Try walking in your employees’ shoes for a minute: NOT knowing where your company is headed is an unpleasant feeling!

If we want people to make the right decisions, they need to know about the big picture.

We need to talk more often about high-level topics like strategy, roadmaps, and goals — not only with our leadership team, but with our broader team, too!

👉 Putting it into action: Could you speak more — and more regularly — about strategy, roadmaps, company goals? Do you have a communication format for that? (E.g. a town hall meeting, an internal blog, …)

#3: Provide high-quality documentation

Documentation is a severely underestimated, critical tool for any organization. It serves multiple purposes:

  • It explains how things work in detail (this makes your processes more robust and less error-prone)
  • It reminds people (even if you’ve already talked about things in a meeting)
  • It helps onboard new people (you don’t want to repeat everything orally)
  • It makes the organization independent of individual key people (people can have a vacation without things coming to a halt; you remove “single points of failure”)
  • It makes things “official” (when it’s written down, it’s much more real and credible)

👉 Putting it into action: Do you have a documentation platform or an intranet? Does everybody have access to it? What topics are currently undocumented / out of date? Who could write those?

#4: Ask people what they want to learn more about

This turns the typical flow of information on its head: instead of leaders choosing which information to reveal, employees are asked what information they are curious about!

This is not only a way to be more transparent, but it also demonstrates trust and respect for the other person.

A perfect place for conversations like these are the 1-on-1 meetings with your direct reports.

👉 Putting it into action: Try asking questions like the following in your next 1-on-1s: “What area of the business would you like to learn more about?” or “Can I explain a bit more about X?

#5: Be transparent about yourself as a person, too

When you share things about yourself (from your work style all the way to your chocolate preferences), people begin to see you as a person. This might sound like an insignificant detail; maybe even a waste of your precious time…

But it’s the basis for one of the most important ingredients of successful teams: trust!
Only if we start getting to know each other as human beings (beyond our roles) can we start to develop trust.

But before you start to put yourself under pressure, please keep in mind: YOU decide what and how much you want to share!

👉 Putting it into action: If you ask your direct reports in your 1-on-1s about their life, then also speak (at least a little bit) about your own! Ask people — carefully and without being intrusive — about their hobbies, families, and if they prefer coffee over tea. Then return the favor by revealing a bit about yourself, too!

Transparency is Not a Concept — it’s a Practice

Transparency, trust, respect… these things separate good companies from great companies!

The tricky task for us, as founders / leaders / managers, is to find *concrete* ways to make these qualities *real* in our teams.

The things I described in this essay are all tried and tested. I’ve implemented them myself in many different teams.

Go ahead and use what you think your team needs and resonates with the most.
It won’t happen overnight, but I promise you’ll notice the benefits sooner than you think.

Take care,

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