Keith Ferrazzi writes a poignant piece in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review. Entitled, "Candor, Criticism, Teamwork," the article treats teamwork and its effectiveness, based on research into the organizational life of institutions. Guess what factor made the most difference, in terms of high-functioning teams? Candor.
"My team interviewed executives at six top banks to gauge their teams' level of candor. We found that the teams that scored the lowest on candor saw the poorest financial returns among those banks during the recent global economic crisis. In contrast, groups that communicated candidly about risky securities, lending practices, and other potential problems were able to preserve shareholder value" (40).
Observable candor is "the behavior that best predicts high-performing teams", in other words.
However, as Ferrazzi rightly points out, "asking people to be candid in the absence of a supportive organizational culture is a challenge" (40).
He suggests three techniques to help colleagues at all levels work more effectively and directly:
- Break meetings into smaller groups. Groups of five or more tend to favor the domination of specific voices, while the other group members remain silent. Be intentional about creating smaller groups. Why? "Smaller groups promote higher degrees of risk taking and increase the odds that more voices will be heard."
- Designate a 'Yoda'. Designate a person (or take a volunteer) to be a Yoda: the official advocate of candor. "A Yoda's job is to notice and speak up when something is being left unsaid. [S/he] may also call out anyone whose criticism is unconstructive or disrepectful."
- Teach 'caring criticism.' Negative feedback, while it can hurt, is "a gift aimed at helping the recipient improve performance or avoid mistakes." However, it doesn't have to be delivered in a negative fashion. Use phrases such as "Think about this..." or "I might suggest..." to deliver this kind of feedback. If the person receiving the feedback considers you as generous rather than authoritarian, that person will be more open to changing the behavior in question.
I know schools that have this "culture of candor," but I also know some that do not. If you're a leader in the latter camp, given all your other duties (which may be overwhelming, especially if your schools is still struggling financially), how might you go about changing the culture to be one in which there is "observable candor"? But what if you're not the head of school? What if you happen to "lead from the middle" (i.e., department chair, dean, coordinator)? How might you become a cultural change agent?