How Transparent Should Your Team Be?


Transparency is the key to the future of work. So says Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack in a recent New York Times piece decrying the end of email as we know it. Slack is just one of a number of apps that are promoting a culture of transparency in the enterprise. Apps like Slack enable anyone in the company to view any conversation by anyone else in the company which promotes knowledge sharing, efficiency and collaboration. 

But just how transparent should your team be? A recent Fast Company article, notes some companies are advocating “extreme” transparency, that sharing as much information as possible strengthens not only the team, but also the company and its mission. As jobs become more complex, so the theory goes, we need to work together in innovative and creative ways and the big gains of business will be made by teams, not “lone individuals.” When work is organized in silos innovation is virtually impossible. 

There are pros and cons to building a transparent culture with your team, but given the changing nature of how people work with multiple tools, some members of your team might be using apps like Slack already. 

what's good and bad in having transparent teams

Don’t Just Take Our Word For It: Ask your team

When talking to your team about what they share with others you’ll get a range of responses from “almost nothing” to “everything.” Many believe that this is due to generational changes: the younger you are, the more likely you live your life in the public gaze on Instagram.

Data gathered by the Queens University of Charlotte backs this up, noting that 50% of Millennials feel social networks boost productivity and 80% prefer real-time feedback over the more traditional performance review.

However, it goes further than that: sharing is an attitude. Working together on a successful team means you rely on each other. Sharing information like your project documentation is part of that, and while it might come more naturally to the younger people on your teams, you will see it embodied in members of every generation.

Again, the report from Queens University of Charlotte found Boomers and Gen Xers equally supporting social media tools for better workplace communications. Yet, you’ll also work with younger colleagues who have rejected the Facebook-style stream of sharing and prefer to do their job independently.

If you want successful teams, you have to harness the positive aspects of data sharing, encourage those who aren’t as supportive of this approach and limit the dangers of having everything out there. This is a crucial way to build team loyalty, according to Jeanne Miester, in a Forbes piece on facilitating workplace transparency. A loyal team is a productive team.

Encouraging Sharing

Not everyone finds that sharing information comes naturally. There are a number of reasons why people don’t automatically save their work on the shared network drive or upload their files to the project management document storage tool:

  • They don’t think about it
  • They don’t want to because knowledge is power
  • They don’t want to because they don’t think what they’ve done is any good
  • They don’t think anyone else will be interested
  • They feel uncomfortable about it because they’ve not done it before
  • They don’t have the technological skills to do it.

All of these can be addressed. If you have team members who do not routinely share information, then talk to them and find out what is driving their behavior. You may have to find ways to incentivize them to share, but start with understanding how they work and give them concrete examples of how teams sharing information has helped deal with issues on your projects.

The Limits of Document Sharing

The most successful organizations we work with are adept at breaking down silos between departments and sharing information in order to succeed together. But they also know when to stop.

Some companies pride themselves on hyper transparency, where pay grades are published for all to see and literally nothing is kept private in the executive suite. In some industries and for some businesses, that model works.

On project teams the same is almost true. There are very few projects where it is inappropriate to keep relevant project data to yourself. But aside from clear guidelines to the contrary, such as confidentiality agreements or security clearances, why wouldn’t you share your statement of work, schedule, budget and risk log with the team? It’s often easier to work on the basis that all project documents are shareable unless one isn’t rather than keeping everything private unless you think it should be shared.

being a transparent leader

How to Set Policies for Sharing

As a project manager, you may have to be the gatekeeper for information and sharing. Having clear policies helps your team know what is appropriate to share and what isn’t, and most importantly, where they can share it. A document that’s suitable for sharing with the project team may be most definitely not suitable for posting on their blog.

Make sure everyone knows what stays within the company. Your employee contracts may cover this, or you may want to introduce non-disclosure agreements for your team members. Remember to include contractors in that too.

Creating a transparent environment is a culture change and that takes time. Start with one project or team who already show signs of working together in an open way. Build on that: talk about their successes with others so that the whole company can see the tangible benefits that come from an appropriate level of information sharing.

How Tools Impact Transparency

Online project management tools make it easy and natural for teams to share data. Certain tools enable you to set a range of security levels, so clients can see, say, the dashboard progress of their project but not the online file folder containing sensitive employee data. 

Many tools incorporate collaboration tools right in the program and support integrations with other collaboration tools like Dropbox or Slack. This might be a preferable approach, rather than using a myriad of stand-alone tools and apps, so that you can make sure you do have some measure of control over access.

Make sure you understand the full features of your current program and determine whether it aligns with the level of transparency you have on your team. has virtually no learning curve and granular security permissions so the right people see the right information and teams have all the data they need to work together successfully. Take a free trial today.

Related Posts