Thursday Thread: Iceberg of Ignorance

Here’s how we sometimes see the question of “how’s this week been?” being answered across an organization…

Staff to peer: “I’m getting to the point of burn-out. This tool isn’t working as expected. Communicating with the cross-teams has been difficult.”

Staff to team leader: “Honestly, it’s been pretty tough… I don’t anticipate it being this way forever but…”

Staff to team manager: “This month has been a little crazy. But everything ebbs and flows – I’m sure next month will be better!”

Staff to executive: “Been busy! But busy is good, right? We’ll take busy any day!”

Sound familiar?

We hear a lot from leadership teams that they aren’t sure they’re getting the truth from their staff. And, you’re probably right. We’ve been primed to bring optimism when talking to the people above us. We want them to think that even though something is challenging (and we always want to be challenged!), we have the solution and we definitely are NOT complaining. 

So, the higher-up the person you’re talking to, the less “problems” people are inclined to share. And that becomes a vicious cycle. 

As a team leader, you want to communicate to the team manager that sure, the team may be stretched thin, “but it will pass!” Because, if it doesn’t, it’s a reflection of you and how you manage your team. 

And so, the communication becomes a little less transparent and a little more optimistic the higher we go. And maybe we get a little farther away from the truth. 

Remember the game telephone? Problems are a lot like that in organizations. They may be misheard, misconstrued, or miscommunicated. 

And that might leave us with leadership teams with the best of intentions potentially solving the wrong problem. 

What can be done immediately? As year-end reviews take place, consider asking your employees in their year end reviews to reflect on the year share three things:

  1. Something they’d like to see changed (STOP)
  2. Something they’d like to see implemented (START)
  3. Something they’d like to see continue in 2022 (CONTINUE)

This START-STOP-CONTINUE model can help structure the conversation in a simple, non-threatening way for getting feedback.

Our best advice: Lean in – don’t be afraid to share that you don’t know what you don’t know. It may require sharing some of your own hardships or concerns to make a safe space for others to share theirs. 

With the approaching holiday season and the New Year, we encourage you to pause and reflect on the past year. How was communication handled from the top-down about changes, departures, concerns? If you want to implement a model of transparency from the bottom-up, make sure leaders are walking the talk in 2022. 

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