“Transparency” is one of the buzzwords we hear in organizations, usually via leaders proclaiming they’re all about sharing information with their fellow workers. The benefits of transparency have been touted over the years in the business press, especially in light of the corporate scandals of the last decade.
Of course, we know that walking the talk on this one can be an elusive quality, especially in the workplace. Personally speaking, the more an executive or manager proclaims their commitment to transparency, the more I question whether he will deliver.
This is a shame, because the results of transparency — common knowledge shared by all — may likely create more team players whose priorities go beyond the self. For an interesting spin on this, here’s a study published by Harvard University researchers (including noted professor Steven Pinker), suggesting that shared knowledge among key stakeholders can increase cooperation between them. Avital Andrews, writing in Pacific Standard magazine, reports on it:
If you know that someone knows something that you also know, does that make you more likely to cooperate with them? A new study out of Harvard suggests the answer is yes.
…[The study], published last week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that when people have common knowledge, they’re much likelier to act in each others’ best interest.
Andrews explains how the study helps to break new ground on our understanding of mutually beneficial cooperation:
Social psychology has plenty of studies that examine altruism, but there hasn’t been much research that looks into its obscure cousin, “mutualistic cooperation”—that is, when people cooperate to benefit each other and themselves.
It makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it? Common knowledge — the proverbial “let’s make sure we’re all on the same page here” — can lead to greater understanding and trust. Certainly there are instances where information cannot or should not be shared. However, as a general proposition, when employees feel treated respectfully and believe that key information is not being withheld from them, they are more likely to get beyond the us vs. them paradigm that typically besets poorly led organizations.