We defaulted to open.
What does this mean? It means rather than starting from a point where you choose what to share, you start from a point where you chose what not to share.
You begin sharing by default.
But in a bigger organization, it's hard to find the right balance between communicating too little and communicating too much about what is going on. Don't communicate enough, and employees start to fill in the blanks themselves, often with misinformation at best and conspiracy theories at worst. Communicate too much, and they'll turn you into a Dilbert-esque demon, wasting their time with mindless meetings and updates when they could be getting stuff done.
The rub? Communicating too much and too little both negatively impact employee engagement, and unhappy employees aren't great innovators.
So how do you find the sweet spot in the middle?
Just flip that on its head. Default to open, and then make smart decisions about which things have to be closed instead of making decisions about which things should be opened.
Here's an example:
In my old group at Red Hat, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to help design our own office space. As part of the space design, we determined that we wanted no offices– everyone would be in a large, open collaborative space. Everyone had the same sized cubes, and it didn’t matter how much of a muckety-muck you were or weren’t.
If you wanted to have a private conversation, the space design included a series of private alcoves, where you could go talk with your doctor, or yell at your wife, or whatever you didn’t want to do in public. But the key is that you had to actively decide when placing a call, do I want to take this in private? Which is counter than the old-skool office design where you had an office with a door, and all conversations were private by default.
We also ensured there was a big public space adjacent to the cubes with no door (i.e. not a “meeting room”) so that when brainstorming sessions were happening, the people sitting nearby could participate however they wanted. In some cases, this meant the folks near the meeting would put their headphones on and ignore what was happening. But in other cases they passively listened, with perhaps a nugget of a new idea or two seeping into their heads every few minutes. And sometimes they actively engaged in the conversation from their desks, calling out a few ideas that helped the team.
This principle applies well beyond the design of physical space. At Red Hat, we applied it to everything from designing the values and mission of the company to strategic planning to everyday "water cooler" conversation.
Why? When you default to open, everyone can set the dial for what they want to know themselves.
- You can still control which information, conversations, get shared. You may just tend to share more than you ever thought to share in the past.
- Your employees get to set their own threshold for how much they want to hear and contribute. Because you are sharing more information by default, they are less likely to think you are holding back. But if you are sharing too much, they can always put on proverbial headphones and tune the extra information out. They get to control their own flow of information.
As a a manager, the biggest impact when everyone is defaulting to open is that you actually know what is going on around you. You overhear conversations. You can pass on a tidbit of useful advice over a cube wall. You can see who is actually in the office. You see gossip on mailing lists that you otherwise would have missed.
- If you have a door on your office, leave it open. Encourage others to do the same.
- If your online calendar is private by default, consider making it public, and only making events private that need to be private.
- Host an open-door meeting.
- Publish your meeting notes on a mailing list or intranet. If appropriate, consider publishing them on the Internet as well (this is what most good open source software projects do).
- Start writing a blog to publish your thoughts whether others can see them.
- Buy a pair of headphones so you can tune out the stuff you don't want to hear.
- Buy some awesome music to play through the headphones. I'm digging The Local Natives, Sleigh Bells, and The Love Language right now.
This particular principle is critical to the way most good open source software projects are run. In fact, most open source engineers would read this hack and think "doesn't it happen this way everywhere?" So thanks to them for the inspiration as well.