Transparency, honesty, and constant communication are required for a team to perform well – and are liable to diminish when certain things are known by some and kept from others. As in marriages and families, secrets create distance between people in a business. Secrets are the root of exclusion and unnecessary tensions that ultimately degrade the chemistry of a team. Yet, despite the obvious consequences of secrets, they sometimes crop up anyways.
Why Do People Keep Secrets?
Sometimes, it is shame. It could be a mistake someone made or a lapse in judgment that, in retrospect, seemed shameful enough to require concealment. In well-run teams, however, mistakes are discussed openly so that they can be efficiently resolved and – perhaps more importantly – learned from. At other times, a piece of information is considered too confidential for mass consumption. Those who know may start to act differently around those left in the dark. The playing field becomes uneven, and the team suffers.
What Should Leaders Do?
Teams should have a bias toward openness that kicks in whenever anything becomes ambiguous. As leaders, we must foster an environment that dissuades the need for secrets. People should be rewarded with support and increased trust when they are open about mistakes. And when it comes to managing information, we must weigh the cost of a compromised chemistry against the benefits of secrecy. Most times, openness is the best way to promote a healthy team dynamic and a comfortable working environment.
As a leader, you must also keep your finger on the pulse of your team and business. When the chemistry is off and something doesn’t feel right, you need to start asking questions. Questions are the best way to prompt communication and peel back the layers of whatever struggles (or secrets) lie beneath.
But the best approach is preventative. One Fortune 500 executive that I met while conducting interviews for my upcoming book told me that he would make a point of congratulating people for solving a problem – even when the problem was a result of their own mistake. He explained that doing so sent a message to all employees that openness leads to a celebrated resolution, even when you are at fault.
***This article is based on research by Scott Belsky and the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.