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How to avoid land-mines at work

If I hit a ball at you as hard as I can, odds are, you’re not going to be happy with me.

If I now tell you we are playing tennis, you’re no longer upset at me and your perspective immediately changes.

Why does this happen? It’s because Tennis is a game, with rules where it’s acceptable to hit a ball at the other person as hard as you can. It’s within the agreed upon rules of the game and expected. As soon as I tell you we’re playing tennis, your expectations have changed, and you understand, at least in concept, the rules of the game we are playing.

In the workplace we rarely know the rules of the game. One employee thinks we are playing tennis, another thinks we’re playing football and someone else thinks we’re playing chess. There are no defined rules of the game because as a team, we’ve never sat down to establish what game we are playing.

When we don’t know what’s acceptable to say or to do with each other it makes it quite hard to get our work done let alone collaborate with others. We come to work with vastly different perspectives and views of the world. This diversity of perspectives and backgrounds can be a breeding ground for creativity and a recipe for disaster.

It can make work feel like you are walking through a series of land mines. Instead of giving someone direct and honest feedback, it’s safer to stay quiet and not risk stepping on a land mine. The energy we spend daily trying to tip toe around one another’s assumed land mines takes away from the common goal we’re trying to achieve as a team. It is what drives ineffectiveness and inefficiency.

Lack of clarity and confusion around what to say to whom and when is a massive waste of time and energy. This lack of transparency is one of the biggest barriers to leading a high performing team.

To create a team that performs, you need people who are willing to be radically transparent with one another, a team that is direct in their communication.

What does it mean to be radical transparent?

Radical transparency means you deliver communication that is clear, action-oriented and in the moment. This type of live and direct interaction is what allows each individual on your team to operate at their best and deliver results most effectively for the team.

It also means you have a group of people who feel psychologically safe to communicate with one another directly.

Psychological safety is the belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for sharing an idea, question, concern or even for making a mistake. It’s the creation of a safe space for people to interact without worrying about consequences.

Creating a radically transparent team is within your control as a leader. You don’t need to get your entire company involved to make them happen. You can start today.

Radical transparency is created when you clearly define the rules of the game, align with your team on the rules and consistently hold yourself and your team accountable to the rules.

It starts with clarity and gets stronger with consistency.

Originally published in Forbes on May 5th, 2017

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