The Benefits of Transparency

I work at a non-profit, religious institution. My colleagues and I all believe we are engaged in important work (we are!), and we are endlessly generous to one another in sharing our time, our creativity and our resources in a true spirit of teamwork and partnership. We support one another, and we want each other to succeed in our collective work and shared mission.

But occasionally, people whisper in the hallway. Office doors are sometimes closed. Every now and then, colleagues are blind copied on emails. After all, this is where we work, and we all believe strongly in our work. We do what it is necessary to ensure our work is done well, and done effectively. We each do what we can to succeed.

It could be argued that there is much to gain by keeping access to our work strictly limited only to those who are part of our team, or at least limited to people who we believe will support the direction of our work. Generally, our teams speak with a unified voice. Our closest colleagues will most likely not challenge the overall direction of our work, and they intimately understand the steps that we as a team have taken to get to where we are. Furthermore, by sharing our work with colleagues outside of our team only upon completion, we present a finely crafted finished product. We have honed our messages, and we have done our best to plan for every response and each eventuality. Our finished product will represent the very best of who we are, and what we do.

Unfortunately, such perfection is usually an unattainable goal. Despite our very best intentions to present an effective work product, other teams are doing work that they too are keeping secret. The work other teams are doing will often effect the work we are doing. Additionally, people on other teams often have information and expertise that can be informative and helpful in our work, but we will never get that information if all of our work is kept private until it is completed, and by that time it is probably too late for meaningful changes.

transparency-jpgSo, what if we considered transparency? What if our office doors were open? What if we never blind copied anyone on any email ever again? What if, while in discussion with someone in the hallway at work, we welcomed the person walking by into our conversation? What if we encouraged opportunities for input from colleagues outside of our team?

Transparency can be a scary proposition. When we are transparent, we make our valuable ideas visible to our colleagues, along with our questions, our curiosities and sometimes even our confusion and frustration. Our work process (the good, the bad and the ugly) is now laid bare for all to see.

I preach transparency a lot at work. I tell everyone how much can be gained by including others in their work, and how we are all on the same team. The default behavior, however, always seems to be privacy. And, though I am usually the preacher of transparency, I too find that level of openness and generosity can sometimes be challenging.

The real test for me came when I embarked on a new project with two other colleagues on my team. “Rather than doing this work on email, why don’t I just create a group on our enterprise collaboration network? This way, we can talk about the files we create, maintain a legacy of information, and welcome others into the process.” My colleagues agreed, hesitant though they were.

I went to create the group, and immediately felt the twinge of fear, pride and ownership. No one outside my team knew anything about this project. They did not understand our long term goals, and they did not have a sense of the history of what we had done to get to this point.

I created the group, and posted the documents for the colleagues I was working with on the project to see. As we did our work, other people outside our team noticed the group, and even clicked on the files to see what we were working on. I was getting nervous, but then they began to make some very interesting posts.

“Larry, I didn’t know you were working on this. Great work!” “Larry, I have some information that may help you. Can we find some time to talk?” “Larry, this actually may help us with something we are doing on my team. Thanks!”

Not only was I know sharing more effectively with my partners in this work, but now people throughout my organization were aware of this new project. Good questions were being asked, information was being shared, and different teams were able to use our work to inform their own work.

Some of the replies could have been negative, such as “Wait, I am working on this too.” “Why are you doing this? I don’t understand?” Or, “This is not your job!” Actually, even negative replies can be helpful. Had I not shared, I would not have known I was engaged in duplicate efforts, I would not have been able to help someone better understand my work, and if this was really not my work to do, I would have the opportunity to stop before investing too much time.

So share. Be transparent. Include others. Your work will improve, and your entire organization will be stronger for it.


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