I have been in the IT industry since I was 21 years old, when I began working as a junior developer for a big consultant company, and I’m now about to turn 37 having passed through a few places an quite a diverse bunch of roles. I know, it’s not a whole lifetime, but I believe 16 years is enough time to witness a lot of falseness and opacity.
That, of course, depends on many factors: the size of the company, how rooted its working practices are, and how the industry itself has changed during the years (the world, if you ask me). However, they all have one thing in common: struggling with true openness to a degree.
I became as a Scrum master because I’m an ENFJ and because I wanted to make the (IT professional) world a better place, because of where I come from and the horrible situations I’ve had to endure during my professional years so far. I don’t think I truly understood this until a few months ago, when I was still a Scrum master at Bango. Now that I am part of a much bigger company (once again), Arm, very open to transparency but not really applying it efficiently so far due to those cultural roots I mentioned earlier (and yet, they’re very determined to make it happen, which is fantastic), I wonder: Am I a transparent professional or a transparent person? How does it differ? What’s the difference between privacy and transparency, in a personal or a professional way?
Let’s talk about this from an abstract perspective: objectively speaking, aspects of our personality or external factors such as how we perceive privacy, confidentiality in our personal lives and the world in general clearly affects how we see transparency in our workplace. It make sense. Sometimes we are forced to be quiet or silent about specific topics (a person changing roles, a rumour about a new contract…), a typical please keep this between us situation. I’m pretty sure you’ve all been through that over and over. Inside and outside your office. It’s just human nature.
Now, the interesting bit is that it works both ways. You can be completely transparent about something, with no need to conceal any kind of secret. Yet, the people you tell about it will choose not to spread the word, or still keep it under specific, intimate conversations. Why does that happen?
I have been accused many times of being a bit too open. Go to my Instagram profile and see all my silly videos, selfies or stereotypical social media addict. Visit my professional website and if you dig in you’ll discover there are many personal details about myself. This is done intentionally. I am a transparent person. I have nothing to hide. And the more personal I go, the prouder I feel. Professionalism and intimacy about oneself are not matters in conflict with each other.
If you judge me for what you can see in my social profiles, or deprecate my professional capabilities because of them, you’re very wrong. Just as wrong as me judging people who choose to be more private about themselves. It’s all a choice. It’s who you are. It’s about being non-judgmental, about respect for diversity of personalities. And I am fascinated about it when it comes to a Scrum team. Becoming a great professional by being yourself, and by enhancing the way you interact with your colleagues who might not share your ways of seeing the world.
Nevertheless, when it comes to transparency in Agile, the answer is plain as simple: we all should aim for clarity and honest constructive criticism. And it is hard to achieve because we all are biased by our intellectual perception of what honesty and manners are, plus how our emotions drive us. These emotions are not just the primary ones such as anger, joy, or sadness, but the combination of those evolving into rants, frustrations, self-centeredness, shame, etc… if we look at the negative side of them.
I don’t mind talking about my emotions. In fact, during a Sprint planning or a retrospective, everyone gets that I am an emotional being. I do not mind expressing myself, but it is also important that these emotions are shown to a proper degree; as a Scrum master (or any respected professional) needs to be the perfect definition of diplomacy. That doesn’t mean I can’t allow myself to get carried away from time to time. It is a healthy thing to do if done properly.
Emotions that are refrained end up always making things worse in the long run. But then again, not everyone perceives emotions the same way. That is why transparency is such a complicated thing to achieve when we multiply these perceptions to the hundreds of individuals. And, of course, as time goes by, the general perception of transparency within an organisation as a result.
I always knew I was a transparent person, but I struggled dramatically about it when I was younger. It felt like it was a wrong element of my personality, when the truth is that it is just another aspect of its complex spectrum. There is value in it, yet if not properly used it can be dangerous to myself, others or my company. No different to any emotion taken to the extreme.
Transparency is a lifestyle, not a choice. You are who you are, you do what you do. You might have a negative opinion about something specific I am doing wrong in my role, but you won’t tell me because you don’t want to hurt me or simply because you don’t care. You ask me to be discreet about something that’s about to happen, but then I discover the mouth of word is all around and by the time it becomes public, everyone is aware of it.
Why? Is it so difficult to try and be constructive and straightforward with your peer colleagues? Yes, it is. It is very difficult. Because some topics are sensitive. And because we need time and dedication when it comes to the tricky art of communicating efficiently and with diplomacy.
Maybe that’s because I now live in a world that embraces transparency in the working environment, as the last few years I’ve been involved in Agile environments, hence transparency is perceived with positivism. I can’t say the same of all the places I worked on before my Agile times. It was the opposite, where being opaque and secretive was the thing to do, the way to be, and being transparent would have meant being sacked right away.
I often think about the very young people I work with now, the ones who are beginning their careers, and they only know the Agile ways right from the start. I can’t help but thinking they’re lucky, but the truth is that they’re simply working the way we all should have worked years, decades ago. I am very, very keen on seeing the long-term effect of their mindsets in the upcoming times. I believe in the cognitive changes of society and working environments, and despite by the time I get to see the results my professional life will come to an end, I think it’s profoundly exciting.
Let’s make transparency an easy election for our colleagues together. We all can make it happen. What do you think? And how do you differentiate the perception of transparency and privacy?