The Value of Trust & Transparency

Trust Aug 14, 2020

Transparency has become an essential focus in the workplace, with good reason. A study by TINYpulse has shown that management transparency is the number one factor in employee happiness. Happy employees are engaged employees. So, is transparency always a good thing for a company? It turns out that trust and openness at work is a two-way street. Both management and employees must work together to become more transparent. Also, there are pitfalls to implementing transparency in the workplace. If done wrong, team members can shut down instead of becoming more engaged; when done well, it is a game-changer.

What Is Transparency?

Transparency in a company means that all employees know what is going on. They are aware of the company’s main goals, the company’s finances, information on competitors, ongoing projects, and the company’s expectations of them. Additionally, employees are transparent with each other, meaning that they are honest and open about what they are working on, their progress, their concerns, and their goals. Managers are transparent with their team members about company information, project statuses, expectations, and interests.

Transparency is not an either/or quality. There is a continuum of openness. Some companies are at the closed end of the spectrum, with hardly any information sharing going on. Other companies are at the other end, sharing everything with everyone and tracking everything. Too much transparency, of the wrong kind, can cause problems in an organization. With the right amount, though, the benefits are great for everyone involved.

Benefits of Transparency

In a genuinely transparent workplace, both the managers and the employees are open with each other. When implemented well, both the company and its employees will see many benefits.

Suppose management is transparent about the company’s goals, mission, and vision and what they expect of employees. In that case, employees are much happier and engaged. Employees feel that if management is candid with them, they will reciprocate by doing their best work. Employees also feel safer if everything is aboveboard. They are not worried about hidden surprises and can focus on their work.

Productivity will increase. Employees feel more engaged, and there is a lot more sharing going on between team members. Workers can share ideas and best practices that they have discovered, thus benefiting the whole team.

Problems on a project can be spotted earlier if there is transparency. Imagine that a team member gets behind on his part of the project. A manager is informed and can reallocate resources in a transparent environment to help remedy the situation before it is too late. If a person hides that they are behind, it may not get discovered until it is too late. Also, team members will be more likely to ask questions without worrying about impacting how others view their work.

Knowing the management goals for a project will help team members keep on track and produce work that benefits the company, instead of going off on a tangent because they didn’t know what the actual goals were. Team leaders kept apprised of the members’ specific work contexts can also correct the course of work and help prevent errors.

Pitfalls of Implementing Transparency

Spying kills innovation and engagement

There is also a risk of too much transparency. Some companies think that transparency from employees means that their every move should be tracked and observed. Some time tracking and productivity analytics software is much too intrusive. It can cause a feeling of being spied upon for workers. Managers that are always observing their workers may create an environment where employees are afraid to make mistakes, learn new things, or take risks. The result is that workers fear to attempt anything innovative.

Studies have found that employees who feel continually watched end up trying to hide what they are doing, even when they aren’t doing anything wrong. They feel self-conscious and judged for every move. There can be a breakdown of trust between team members and management. This level of oversight is not the way to create employee engagement.

Transparency works when it involves open and willing sharing of information in a trusted environment to achieve a goal. It does not work when management unilaterally gathers private details about team members and their work without their knowledge or approval.

How to Implement Transparency for Best Results

Promote Trust Between Team Members and Management

Transparency must be a two-way street between managers and the people who report to them. Transparency needs to be an ingrained part of the company culture, not just an exercise in using tracking tools.

Managers need to start by sharing with their team members. They need to be open to questions and answer them honestly. They need to share as much as they can about the current project and overall company goals and challenges. Only when managers start to build trust with their team members will team members be willing to reciprocate.

Some companies use daily stand-ups as a way to start building transparency and trust. Plans, progress, and problems (PPP) can be shared in a few minutes each day. It is important not to penalize team members for what they share in these meetings. It should be more of an open two-way dialogue between team members and leaders.

Encourage Visibility

Making team members’ activity visible has been a goal of remote teams for a while. But what does this mean? It is not just broadcasting a person’s current work in progress. Visibility in this context has several components. It can be helpful in the office and for remote workers.

First, team members are encouraged to be open about themselves on a day-to-day basis. This openness can include their moods, availability for the day, and the context of their work. For example, they can share whether they are on a tight deadline or whether they are available for questions.

Second, they can share their work, solicit feedback, ask for help, provide mentorship, and praise, both verbally and through collaboration and sharing online. Team members can share progress, roadblocks, and other considerations freely. Communication like this will only work in an atmosphere of trust.

Lastly, promote the sharing of information about the team with the broader organization. Open sharing will benefit the team by giving it greater visibility and will help employees company-wide by showing them how other teams work.

Generating a culture of visibility will enhance trust and help encourage transparency within the company.

Create Protective Boundaries for Transparency

Transparency can backfire when it starts to encroach on privacy. But with some boundaries, trust and privacy can be protected and teammates will be more willing to participate.

Boundaries Around Teams

Employees can become self-conscious and afraid to share if they feel like a large group of people will be judging them. They may trust their team members to understand the situation. Still, they may not trust people in the larger organization to understand their point of view. It is a good idea to limit most sharing and transparency to team members only. People outside of the team receive only that information which they genuinely need while preserving team privacy as much as possible.

Keeping Feedback and Evaluation Separate

People want to have feedback to improve their performance. Still, they get nervous if using the same growth feedback to evaluate them for promotions and raises. It is best to keep improvement and evaluation separate. Feedback for performance improvement purposes should have no part in salary evaluations. Keeping feedback and evaluation independent of each other will ensure that employees take feedback to heart. They will see it as coaching in the spirit of growth and improvement and not as a warning. For real two-way transparency, team members should also be able to give team leaders constructive feedback.

Decision Rights Versus Improvement Rights

Only certain people in the organization are empowered to make decisions. Some team members are not decision-makers. However, this means those team members who are not decision-makers don’t feel empowered to improve their workflow.

It is necessary to distinguish between decision rights and improvement rights. Allocate “slack” time for team members to test out their ideas for improvements. If they can test these out during slack times, they will not hurt productivity during the main production times. By empowering workers to improve their workflow, everyone will benefit. Employees will feel engaged in the process, and the company will reap the rewards of their improvements.

Boundaries of Time

Another way to give employees more privacy is to designate specific times for experimentation. Experimentation is hard to do within a context of transparency. Team members need some time to try out things without being watched or evaluated. Popular Google products spawned during the time that Google gives its employees to try out and develop projects based on their ideas and interests. This type of experimentation time is a win for the employees who get to work on personally fulfilling tasks. It is also a win for the company, which benefits from the innovations.

When transparency is implemented well within an organization, it benefits everyone, team members, and managers. Team members can relax and do their work, knowing that unknowns will not ambush them. Managers will understand that their team members are on track and will be able to intervene in real-time if anything goes wrong.

It is advantageous to involve team members in the decision-making process when considering transparency initiatives. Involving them will ensure that the transparency process does not become an invasion of privacy that makes employees uncomfortable. Both managers and team members must become transparent to each other if the process is to work.


Want to help foster a more open and trusting team?  botany.io is a smart virtual coach designed to help software engineering and managers professionally grow and improve their skills.

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Myron McMillin

Co-founder at botany.io

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