Recently, reader Derek R. posed a challenge in his response to my blog post on Transparency at Work with this:
“As a middle-manager, what can be done to promote transparency when your office culture doesn’t prioritize it?”
It’s tough for a mid-level manager to promote transparency in a non-transparent office culture. If you’re in this position, the best thing to do is to model transparency in your own management activities and hope it catches on. Since transparency is a bit of a business buzzword, let’s define transparency for the sake of this article.
Transparency: an open, honest and direct communication with co-workers and business associates.
Here are 9 ways a mid-level project manager can promote transparency with colleagues in a closed office environment:
- Start by being transparent with your project teams. The essence of promoting transparency is walking your talk. When you’re transparent with the people on your team, you not only model transparency but demonstrate its benefits too. For example, be honest and admit when you don’t know an answer; don’t fake one. Acknowledge when you’re wrong; it’s better than failing because you can’t admit an error. These practices are good work communication habits, and shouldn’t rattle anyone in upper management.
- Explain your decisions. Invite and listen to feedback—it will make your co-workers feel more involved. Be honest and direct, even when solutions aren’t clear. Team members have different insights and opinions that can improve future decisions—and this is the core benefit of being transparent.
- Develop a transparent work processes. Using a collaborative task and project management tool is transparent by nature. When you have a shared project location that lets everyone access and distribute work, this communicates the same information to all team members.
- Find like minds. You’re probably not the only practitioner of transparency in your organization. Look for others who communicate honestly and are known for their openness while being valued by upper management. Reach out and get to know them. If they’ve been around the organization longer than you have, their experience and advice will be valuable.
- Make yourself available. It’s hard to promote transparency from behind a closed office door. Instead, manage by walking around. Go to team members to discuss shared projects; don’t force them to seek you out.
- Know when to keep information to yourself. If your boss or boss’s boss has given you sensitive information, go ahead and ask if you can share any part of it with your team. If the answer is “no,” sharing the info could cost you your job. Instead, figure out what you’ll tell your team if the topic is broached. Lead with something like, “I’d like to address that issue, but management thinks it isn’t the time yet to do so.”
- Ask employees what information they need, then get it for them. Be ready to create systems so that your team can access the information, resources or contacts they need or want—including any relevant financial information for your project. Using a cloud-based project planning software will help with this, too.
- Respond positively to honesty. When people tell truths, even ones you don’t welcome, thank them. If appropriate, give them credit in your work group so their honesty is viewed as a benefit for the whole team. If a team member is having a problem with his job, work with that person to find a solution.
- Socialize with co-workers. Team events as simple as going to lunch together can help break down barriers. If you’re trying to build a community, taking the time to learn about a co-worker’s family, work history and personal passions can build trust that’s needed for more transparent interactions. Plus, it will probably be fun for everyone.
These steps might not be easy, and they take courage, as fellow LiquidPlanner blogger Andy Makar pointed out in Why Transparency Matters and How to Make It Happen. Andy writes: “As any experienced PM will tell you, it’s part of the job to portray a realistic picture of what’s going on.”
How have you promoted transparency with project teams when upper management is all closed doors?