How an Organizational Culture of Secrets Can Hold You Back

A woman is about to whisper...gossip?

Most companies today know and fully accept that a trustworthy organization welcomes, heeds and acts upon feedback while valuing open and honest communication. Many even incorporate that worthy concept into their company values.

And most leaders give lip service to their intention to support open and truthful communications. But what goes on behind the scenes—on secretive phone calls, in the break room, or on instant messaging? If you have even one team member indulging in gossip, you have a problem…one that could undermine an entire team.

Teams with secrets are teams that cannot live up to their full potential. When gossip is allowed, morale drops, employee engagement suffers and overall team performance decreases. And one team can infect another; the disease can spread so that the entire company culture becomes toxic.

Gossip prevents effective communication on workplace issues, isolates co-workers and can even result in legal action. It can destroy work relationships or even careers. It is your job as leader to stop gossip in its tracks.

Here are three steps to take to create a more open, honest and effective corporate culture:

  1. Clean up your own act.
    Make sure you, as a leader, set the right example. Do not ever engage in a conversation about a team member without inviting them to join. You should not say anything or write anything that you would not want published to the entire team the next morning. If you want an open and high performing environment, you need to model the way conversations are to be handled…directly and with empathy. Be willing to tell the truth even if it means having a difficult conversation. Begin to build the foundation of trust by leading the way.
  2. Establish guidelines with your team.
    Be clear about why you insist on a gossip-free team and that you will hold everyone accountable to that goal. When team members understand the negative consequences, they will be more supportive and help create the “rules” for engagement. Feedback should be given directly to the co-worker, honestly and with the intention to improve the colleague’s behavior. These conversations should be frank but respectful, safe with no repercussions, and allow space and time for reflection.
  3. Agree upon steps for change.
    Once the feedback has been delivered and received, there should be a follow-up discussion about what changes are recommended to improve the situation. Giver and receiver should agree upon what steps could be taken. Often it requires both to work on their behavior. A micro-managing boss, for example, will need to back off while the overly controlled team member should prove that they are fully capable of handling the job on their own. Both should be held accountable to ensure progress is being made.

Don’t let office gossip or behind-the-back conversations sabotage your organizational culture. See that your employees are free to give even uncomfortable feedback openly and with the promise of constructive action.

Read about 6 more traps that can sabotage yourself as a leader

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