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Total Transparency: A Good Idea?

Transparency: a central virtue for any project manager! We are often told that transparency is an ideal to aspire to since, without it, trust cannot be built. Yet, should we always show our hand to our team or, even more pointedly, to our stakeholders?

First: What is Transparency?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, transparency is “free from pretense or deceit” and the “accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.”

So, based on this definition, people are perceived to be transparent (or to act with transparency) when they answer a question truthfully and straightforwardly or when they share relevant information at the appropriate time (even when not asked for this information).

So, why is it so important to play the Transparency Card in project management?

It pays off for a project manager to be transparent, or at least to be perceived as such.

A “transparency mindset” allows you to create or maintain a climate of trust, to create close ties with the team, to motivate your teammates and to give them purpose. There is nothing better than being part of a team that has faith in its leader. Faith can "move mountains", after all.

But how can a team move mountains for a leader or organization if it doesn’t trust the leadership? Indeed, lack of transparency can have major consequences on our relationships.

At the top of the list: a breakdown in trust. Conflicts can then arise since team members feel betrayed. Consequently, the team loses motivation and purpose.

Then, transparency at all costs?

Transparency is one of the best ways of building trust with team members and stakeholders. So, be transparent by default! Remember, it is worse to be seen as “lacking transparency” than to be seen as “awkward” for being overly transparent.

True, it can be a mistake to “reveal all” too early in the process.

And, there is no doubt that some information, depending on the context, demands controlled or limited access. A team cannot expect to receive all information, all the time, without exception, from its leader.

Furthermore, project managers have the responsibility to protect sensitive information and its sources. This responsibility comes from the central role of organizing the project and collaborating with many stakeholders.

The values, interests, and priorities of the management team must also be considered since project managers are entrusted with the job of bringing the project to completion. And, to the management team, it often seems less damaging to be criticized for “lacking transparency” than being called “incompetent” for exposing information that hurts the company’s reputation.

Yet, this does not make managers less reliable or less transparent, quite the contrary! For, good managers understand the importance of transparency for maintaining the trust of their teams. However, they would never jeopardize the company’s reputation in their quest to appear transparent.

To sum up, it is a matter of balance and good judgment when it comes to transparency. Thus, transparency should be aspired to as an ideal that, even if difficult to achieve in all circumstances, must constantly guide teams and their leaders.

Please take part in the discussion by commenting on this post!

Bernache Consulting

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