Transparent communication and trust. What do those things mean to you when you think about leadership? More importantly, are those common terms used to describe your work culture and leadership style? That may be a difficult question to answer; however, I challenge that it should be extremely easy to answer if we intentionally change our approach to leadership using transparent communication when building a trusting culture.
Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to lead numerous teams. Some have been more successful and productive than others, but regardless of their performance my approach to leading them has always been the same. Without an intentional commitment to communication, the team will never truly understand the “why”. Without an intentional commitment to transparent communication, the team will become consumed with the “why” and lose sight of their ability to achieve goals. Without the intentional commitment to using both of those approaches to building trust, well… it really will not matter.
How much time and energy are spent by work groups each day questioning the “why” behind what they are doing? I have witnessed first hand a loss in productivity due to a lack of trust and transparent communication among a work group more times than I care to admit. While it may be difficult to put a number on the productivity lost in untrusting situations, the only thing that matters is that something was lost, and that loss could have been avoided or at least minimized. I am certainly a realist in that it is difficult to achieve a perfect world where trust, communication, and transparency peacefully and properly coexist, however it is the intentional pursuit of that end goal where incremental success can be realized while building trust.
Imagine an environment where a team of employees are considered highly effective and model what “good” looks like on a consistent basis. They consistently exceed all their goals, and there is really no need for performance counseling or discipline. There is very little organizationally that the team is not aware of and they intimately understand the impact their daily responsibilities have on the overall mission of the organization. When a new directive comes from the CEO, the Director of the department rolls out the information in a way that connects it to the mission of the organization and the “why” is always discussed and understood. This allows the team to adjust to ensure the directive is exceeded while also keeping up with their already busy daily schedules. In this situation, the leader has built a culture of trust using intentionally transparent communication that has fostered a positive and nurturing work environment.
What happens when that culture of trust is compromised or tested with adversity and how does that team react and respond? In a trusting and intentionally transparent environment I would challenge that a team would be far more sustainable through those periods of adversity than a similar team who did not operate in the same type of culture. The team may certainly still question or spend time trying to understand the situation, but they would be trusting that the adversity or decision was happening for a reason and be focused on trying to help the organization move forward. A culture of trust built on transparent communication helps members of the team understand their responsibility to their team, colleagues, and the organization. Trust promotes efficient and effective productivity as opposed to lost time worrying about the “why”.
A team functioning in a culture where trust and communication is not intentional and transparent would find themselves in a constant state of flux, questioning the direction and the “why” with a lack of focus on the end goal. They are not trusting of the leadership and decision due to a lack of transparent communication and this could lead to a loss of productivity as they spend time questioning the decision and the reason behind it. A lack of transparent communication surrounding a decision could also have a significant impact on any trust that may have already been built, requiring additional work to rebuild any lost trust up to the pre-existing level.
The first step to building trust with your team is making an intentional commitment to transparent communication in order to help your team understand the reasons behind your decisions. If you are not providing that transparency and context, you are giving your team the right to make up their own story which could lead to lost productivity and an unsustainable solution. It takes commitment by the leaders of any organization or team to ensure that intentionally transparent communication is at the forefront of their leadership style when properly building a trusting culture. This type of work culture will allow the team to focus on each other, the team, and the goals of the organization instead of becoming too consumed with trying to understand the “why” behind your decisions.