What Happens When Transparency Starts to Slip Away?

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity”

– Dalai Lama.

When my kids were young, they had much to share whether I asked or not.

Barely pausing to take a breath between sentences. Their run-on sentences describing the day’s events were kind of like a kaleidoscope of thoughts and feelings. Full of vim and vigour.

I could barely keep up with their play-by-play of the day.

What made them happy.

What made them sad.

It was raw and it was real.

When my kids became teenagers, it was as if a switch turned off in them.

I’d be lucky to get more than one-word responses. And then, only if I asked. Even the one-word answers felt contrived. The laconic reply and lack of eye contact often betrayed the angst brimming just beneath the single word.

I was reminded of this memory the other day during a team Standup. At one point when one of the team members shared what they were working towards between then and the next Standup, she simply stated

Just continuing to work on stuff.”

The statement may be quite true, but it failed to offer much value or insight for the team.

It was little better than the one-word grunts from my teenage kids.

It’s akin to the kind of conditioned response like “I’m good and you?” one would get or give when asked “How are you?”. Even when we’re really not good, we feel compelled to say, “We’re good!” It’s a safe perfunctory platitude. Veiling our unwillingness or unreadiness to disclose more.

The purpose of regular Standups in Agile is for the team to collaborate, coordinate and help each other towards its common goal. The triteness of her statement invited none of that.

On the surface, it may seem like a harmless lapse in collaboration.

For teams new to Agile ways, it may just be part of getting used to openly and freely sharing with your teammates in public. For mature Agile teams, it may just be our humanness showing through. We know what we should share but we just can’t. We all have those days when we’re not feeling it. When we’re preoccupied with other things on our mind. When we just need a moment to ourselves. I get it.

My fear is if those lapses continue unabated over time and spread to others in the team, we could see transparency decline.

Transparency is key to all Agile ways of working. It’s essential to building and maintaining trust – the lifeblood of teamwork.

The loss of transparency is a slippery slope that leads us towards Zombie Agile. Lifeless Standups. Practices without soul. It’s not something that happens overnight. Agile one day and not the next. It’s far more insidious than that. It may start with one-word answers or trite statements. Before you know it, your Agile team has lost its way. They’re just going through the motions without realizing any benefits. A collection of individuals pretending to be a team.

As Agile practitioners, we have an obligation in our teams to keep each other honest. To uphold and remind each other of Agile values and principles.

So, the next time a team member departs from transparency with a trite statement, perhaps we can invite more.

Perhaps we can ask “What else?” or “Can you tell us more?” followed by “What are you hoping to achieve with your stuff?” and “Do you need help?”  This would help remind everyone of the need to maintain transparency in their interactions.

They and the team may very well just thank you for helping to sustain their team’s soul.

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