Does This Email Really Help Your Team?
No matter what microcosm of society you find yourself in, information needs to be shared. It needs to be received. It needs to be understood.
There’s a movement in the world these days around “transparency” within organizations and groups. In a nutshell, it’s all about being open and above-board with folks about what is happening, so that there are no secrets or surprises that catch people off guard.
At first blush, the concept of transparency seems like a good thing. And sometimes, it doesn’t work.
In an effort to be transparent, I see too many folks share what doesn’t need to be shared, which leads to a whole other set of problems. The purpose of transparency is to create a sense of safety; it’s all about sharing information so that folks aren’t in the dark or otherwise left guessing about plans, projects, and objectives.
The challenge with transparency is that we are still required to decide what actually needs to be shared, and with whom. We are still required to be aware of how our information will land, and take steps to ensure that it is received as intended. In other words, when it comes to sharing information, we must be clear on why we are sharing it, what purpose will be served, and choose to share from there.
Recently, I witnessed the fallout of information being shared without thought regarding impact. In an effort to be transparent, an email was sent to all team members, stating that staffing needs and procedures were being evaluated, and that no staffing decisions were to be made while the evaluation was being conducted.
Fair enough, right? The challenge is that no context was provided for the email. Almost immediately, there was speculation that seemed to spread like wild-fire, with folks wondering whether staff positions were being eliminated and who might be affected. The speed with which the fear started to grow would have been comical – except that fear does not bode well for workplace morale.
I don’t know what the background is in this situation. I don’t know if positions are being cut or not. I suspect that the email was sent simply as an FYI; the unintended impact, however, was that it created an immediate ripple of fear. And like I said, teams never function well when fear is in the air.
There’s a fabulous acronym going around challenging folks to THINK before they speak; using the acronym, information is to pass through 5 filters before being shared. Essentially, you decide if the information is
The suggestion is that if you can’t say “yes” to all 5 of these filters, then you need to consider the wisdom of sharing the information.
In the earlier example, my sense is that while the message was TRUE, it wasn’t particularly HELPFUL (at least, not for everyone – it might have been for senior managers who make staffing decisions); it certainly didn’t INSPIRE; it didn’t seem NECESSARY for all; and one could argue that it wasn’t unkind. Putting this all together, it raises the question of how and if that message might have been better received if sent another way, with other wording, or to a different group – if at all.
Admittedly, even when we use filters such as those in the THINK acronym, information will sometimes land with unintended fall-out. As leaders, our responsibility is to ensure that we take responsibility for the information that is shared and how it is shared, cleaning up any fall-out that may happen. Providing context and explanation can go a long way to alleviating fear or other messy aftermath.
Bottom-line: yes, it is important to be transparent, in the sense that you don’t want an environment of secrecy. That being said, neither do you want an environment of confusion and fear. So determine the purpose of sharing particular information, decide whether it’s absolutely necessary, then stick around and take responsibility for ensuring that the information you shared landed with an impact that helps rather than hurts.