Candid communication is a clear sign of a high performing team

Hi there,

Today topic is very close to my heart as I think it is of vital importance to a high functioning team.

Candid or honest communication is present when your team could often freely share/discuss/debate about a particular project. They don’t need to hold back or follow the opinion of the most senior/influential person in the room. Of course, this doesn’t permit you to be an a**h**** nor it is about personal attack. Everyone is trying to find the best solution and come to an alignment.

I am sure we all have been in meetings where it is supposed to be a discussion but everyone just agrees with whatever the most senior guy/gal in the room says. Once I see that, I know this is not a great team. Similarly, if you are in a service industry and you can’t express candid disagreement with your client’s opinion/idea and just say yes, that is not a sign of a healthy relationship.

I particularly like how Ed Catmull articulated candid communication in his best seller “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration”. If you have time, I would strongly encourage you to read it.

Why is candid communication important for a high functioning team?

You can’t surface the best ideas or proceed with them if you don’t have candid communication. It could get worse, you may form the wrong conclusion about a person, a task or a project because no one contradicts your opinion in the meeting. Everyone listens to you/your idea as the most senior person in the room.

As time goes by, you would notice that your team member does not open up and actually share their opinion anymore because why should they? It is getting harder and harder to have an actual discussion.

This negative culture could even impact other team members. Before you know it you would see a fresh graduate just blindly listens and follows instruction from someone who is just 6 months more senior because he/she doesn’t feel like he/she could speak up.

The work quality, the overall culture of your team is getting worse from there.

So how could we achieve candid communication?

I am not an expert in this area so here are a few ideas from me. The culture of candid communication is best started at the top. If you are a people manager, be a candid communicator, listen to your team members’ ideas, praise people who “dare” to speak up in meetings. Consider having a facilitator and empower his/her to facilitate if you have an important meeting and you want to ensure that everyone has a chance to speak, every idea is considered or put into the parking lot.

Candid communication requires a high level of intellectual safety within the team. Everyone is afraid that he or she may say something stupid and be judged for it. Public shame is one of the biggest fear a human being could have. Believe me I have a fair share of that feeling. When someone feels insecure, he/she may start to wonder what a “stupid” comment may lead to? How does it relate to the promotion/salary increase that he/she has been looking for? For this main reason, I think for a group to have candid communication, each team member needs to have a high degree of self worth and be comfortable with each other.

Obviously your job would be much easier if your company values candid communication. Even if this is not the case, however, be the change agent in your own small team. It often takes a long time and hard work to build but candid communication would help you to build a high performing team.

That’s all from me. Feel free to drop any comments below.


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