Small Business and Startups: Teams and Transparency

How transparent is too transparent? At crowdSPRING we have worked hard since we first launched to share information openly and honestly with our users, our investors, and our team. We communicate regularly with customers about site issues, new features, and our policies and procedures. We ask for feedback and suggestions and, when users choose to share their ideas with us, we consider these carefully and seriously. When users complain about a policy they don’t like or a feature that isn’t working the way they want, we will always be honest in our response, even if it sometimes means we disappoint that person.

With our investors we communicate at regular intervals about financial performance, business intelligence data, strategy, site metrics, and operations. When things are good we celebrate with them, and when business is bad we let them know that, too. With the team we also try hard to share important information, such as financial, performance statistics, and other relevant data. We involve every person who works here in product development, strategy, and goals and then we share with them the results of those efforts. Our team is also copied on our regular quarterly Investor Updates, so they are privy to the same financial reporting that our investors have access to.

The issue that I struggle with, as do many managers, is the “line.” When is transparency TOO transparent? How much information is too much and at what point does the information start to negatively impact productivity and morale? Although I try hard to bring the team in on important decisions that will impact our bottom line, I am constantly gauging the degree to which I share details. There is a balance that must be struck, where relevant information can be shared and your team can have input and contribute their ideas to goal-setting, strategy and tactics while still protecting the sensitivities of certain information. Transparency allows your best people to engage with the company, while secrecy tends to make everyone less trusting, leading to lower morale and productivity and higher rates of turnover.

There are many ways that you can create a transparent, collaborative and communicative atmosphere: open office floor plans, meeting notes made available to entire teams, even sharing salary information openly can foster an environment of trust and collaboration. This is not to say that you need to share everything with everyone, but if your team knows WHY something is being done will always work harder and perform better than if they are simply told to carry out a task.

Transparency is hard and building a culture of openness can lead to difficult moments and should not be approached lightly. For instance, when information, especially information of a sensitive nature, is revealed many questions will be raised and careful explanation required. In addition, when more people are involved in decision making the process itself can be slowed. But the more information your team has, the better their understanding of your company’s circumstances, strategic planning, and operating details the higher their job satisfaction will be, the greater their morale, and the better their productivity. And your honesty with your customers will engender a stronger relationship, greater loyalty to your business, and a lower likelihood that your competition can make inroads with your existing base.

Photo, Wikipedia: A transparent jellyfish,  Aurelia labiata