Radical Transparency Vs. The Water Cooler


Radical Transparency Vs. The Water Cooler

Discussing radical transparency as a concept and consequence of cultural and organisational design.

One of the hot topics of today’s remote work world is radical transparency, and how this can help remote teams run work smoothly. In today’s article, we will explore this concept, however, we’d like to make this disclaimer from the start: There is no magical way to make remote teams run smoothly. Let’s discuss more on this if you want.

Or let’s get back to the article first.

Radical transparency is not a new concept. It has drawn media attention a couple of times in recent years. The internet has made it easy for its users to circulate delicate information about large companies, their operations, products, culture, and services. The absolute care with which some of that information has been kept under wraps would finally explode into an image crisis.

So, one way to avoid that is to be proactive and practice radical transparency. This way you can inspire trust, display complete ethical behaviour. So what does it mean and what are the main effects in today’s remote-work environments?

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Radical Transparency Meaning and Direct Effects

Radical Transparency is a whole concept that speaks about openness, total crystal-clear plainness in how a company does its business. There are no behind-the-scenes, no closed-doors, and it should apply both to the relationship between the company and its public, and also to the internal relations between the company and its employees, or partners.

This is what we’re going to be focusing on in this article. The internal workings of a company are an intricate web of groups, teams, pride, rivalries, behind-closed-doors discussions, secrets, half-told truths, and all the rest. It’s about the good, and the bad, with the bad being brushed under the carpet, being kept in check by a few.

In 1990, Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates created an organisational model where everyone can share their thoughts and ideas with anyone in the team without criticism, where blunt honesty is not frowned upon.

So, the first principle of radical transparency is encouraging open conversation. More than that, it would also allow employees to know everything there is to be known about the inner workings of the company, including how much their peers were earning. Specialists point out that this can help motivate employees to work harder to achieve their next pay raise, and it could also protect against any wage discrimination in the case of minorities of gender or race.

Radical Transparency Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, a couple of companies were talking and also walking the talk of radical transparency. For example, Buffer – a social media management startup, began sharing their sales numbers, salaries, revenue use at some point, and it really drew people’s attention to the company, as an honest, and straightforward brand.

The popular fitness technology company, FitBit collects a lot of customer data and they are extremely open about which data they collect, and how they share it.

This has actually become a very serious point for most companies that deal with customer data, and it now seems more and more difficult to handle, especially if you’re someone as big as Facebook.

Anyways, let’s look at another example: GitLab

Radical Transparency: the GitLab model

In our current remote-work reality, radical transparency does not knock on the door asking for permission to enter. It actually kicks down the door. Yes, chances are you haven’t even acknowledged that yet.

Remote work demands radical transparency for the simple fact that it can no longer provide face-to-face interaction. When working remotely, you have to trust your colleagues that they will deliver without meeting in person with them, without supervising them from the other office.

So, remote work demands higher levels of trust and open conversation, the two main pillars of radical transparency. It demands a system, yes.

GitLab is one such model from the tech business. They have more than 1,200 employees and they are all working remotely, from around the world.

The GitLab CEO, Sid Sijbrandij says that they have ditched the e-mails and work mostly on Slack, with an advanced channel system allowing managers to post all of their questions and information on the Slack channels, and the team leaders deciding what information to make permanently visible to others. So, transparency is not an accident.

The information in the Slack channels is searchable by everyone else. So it is everyone’s responsibility to document and choose the information they need. So, no dissemination. We think this is quite an interesting concept – the difference between documentation and dissemination – and we’ll discuss it in a future article.

Radical Transparency in the workplace is a result

We think that radical transparency stems from the organisational culture of a company, from their very own organisational design. You cannot impose it on a company, and you cannot impose it on your people bit by bit.

It starts from a reconfiguration of all the internal working channels, from the main working processes and cycles to the tools and technologies the companies use, and how they choose to conduct themselves.

Radical transparency should not be a goal, but rather a byproduct of a healthy, transparent virtual workplace.

Of course, the water cooler conversations will still be there. People will still meet in private chats and groups and chatter about everything. However, we think there is a big difference now.

In the office, some of the water-cooler and cafeteria discussions would also revolve around a certain work project, around how to do a certain thing. You would catch your team leader at the water cooler and ask him about a project, delaying a task, and so on. Work would also be discussed around the water cooler, decisions would be made there, and a lot of people would be left out.

In an organised remote system, even if there are more discussions on the private chats than on the general channels, if you design your remote organisation so that all the important information and documentation are available on the public channels for everyone to see and absorb, then no important decisions and favours will be any longer made or given through the occasional private chit-chat.

Let’s discuss more about remote organisational design, and how we can help you with that! We can do it here, or out there on Linkedin, for everyone to see.


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