This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on Jun 10, 2017
In recent days we have been reading about leaks from the White House. Leaks are always symptomatic of disgruntled team members who spill the beans to make the leader’s position precarious. There are reasons why information leaks happen in certain teams. Information leaks indicate that the team is not cohesive and some team members are disgruntled and disengaged. So, what are the reasons behind information leak? Here is my take —
1.Lack of shared purpose
A lofty goal which team members are excited about acts as a glue to hold the team together. They know they are a part of a meaningful effort and this knowledge energizes them to achieve the team’s objectives. The best thing about such a dynamic is that team members know that whatever the interpersonal equation among them, they have to make the team function. They are driven by a larger purpose and will never do anything to put the team’s effectiveness in jeopardy. Hence, there are no leaks.
2.Lack of trust
A cohesive team believes in vulnerability based trust — team members shun their ego and are brutally honest about their shortcomings. They don’t shy away from sharing what they are not good at. They do this as they know that their fellow team members will not use this knowledge to belittle them and will support them when needed. Team members are transparent as they don’t mind being open about their weaknesses and this helps in achieving the team’s larger objectives. Clearly, when trust is missing among team members they talk about it outside and leaks happen.
A cohesive team believes in vulnerability based trust — team members shun their ego and are brutally honest about their shortcomings.
3.No outlet to voice concerns
Many leaders treat their team members as robots. They believe these followers will execute what they are told without any questions. When you force people to do something and don’t take their inputs, they don’t own it. They do what they are told for some time and then retaliate. The right way to build a team’s agenda is to involve everyone in shaping it wherein not only are their ideas taken but all their concerns are addressed too. When this does not happen and members are not able to vent their concerns, they vent it outside the team context.
An autocratic leader often believes he has answers to all problems. He believes that his teams are there to just execute his ideas and not think much. As a result, he will try and push his ideas on his teams even if they don’t buy into it.
So, you will have many team members executing an idea without fully owning it. And, when teams execute ideas mindlessly, the members become disengaged and the quality of final outcome suffers. Team members are left disgruntled, peeved and highly demotivated. They then voice their concerns outside. If you have a narcissist leader, leaks are likely. Members leak information to tarnish the image of the leader as they dislike him or her.
When you force people to do something and don’t take their inputs, they don’t own it. They do what they are told for some time and then retaliate.
5.No defined “Ways of Working”
Irrespective of the level of familiarity among team members, it always helps to establish a “Ways of Working” that stipulates the behaviour they need to demonstrate in their day to day working. It acts as a ‘Dos and Don’ts’ list for members and guides them in times of confusion.
Team members know that they would be held accountable if they don’t follow the rules spelled out in “Ways of Working”. Not having well defined rules can lead to leaks.
6.No fear of retribution
When team members know that they can leak information and get away without being punished, they don’t mind repeating the same behaviour. Companies such as Google have very clear rules around this. While a team freely exchanges information with its employees, it takes a serious view of those who try to spill the beans outside the company. The errant employee can be sacked.
Conflicts are opportunities to resolve issues and find the best possible answer to problems. When there is trust among team members, they welcome conflict.
Conflicts are Avoided
If a team’s tendency is to maintain bonhomie and shun conflict, the consequences can be bad. Conflicts are opportunities to resolve issues and find the best possible answer to problems. When there is trust among team members, they welcome conflict and members share their views, have solid arguments, and arrive at a beneficial solution. Remember, team members have different world views and conflicts are inevitable. What is critical, however, is to hear each person out, agree to disagree if required, and then stand behind the course of action decided by all. However, when team members are not honest with each other and try to maintain a pseudo veil of warmth, it leads to frustration and they never commit to an agreed course of action. And leaks happen.