How to Practice Transparency in Decentralized Organizations

4 min read
May 3, 2016

Optimized-R3WN4LPQU6.jpgIn centralized organizations, all decisions are generally made in one office or one conference room. Should management determine transparency to be a virtue, they can easily keep their employees in the loop by providing regular updates and clueing them in on the latest developments.

In decentralized organizations, on the other hand, there are a number of people responsible for making a number of different decisions. For example, imagine a small organic market has expanded to include six locations, each managed by a different person. Instead of meeting with other bosses or asking the owner for permission, each manager is able to sell the specific items they believe appeal the most to their local customers’ palates.


Benefits of Decentralized Organizations?

The benefits of decentralized organizations speak for themselves. Since decisions can be made at the local level (or the departmental or team level), projects and initiatives can move forward more quickly. This allows products to get to market faster and ideas to become reality sooner thanks to the elimination of bureaucracy. Because lower-level employees are generally allowed to make more decisions than their peers at centralized organizations, they are more likely to stick around. Who doesn’t like having a little bit of authority or autonomy?

But decentralized organizations aren’t without their flaws. Because managers are allowed to make decisions on their own, decentralized organizations often have to navigate information silos. The head of the product team, for example, might make a decision about new features without consulting the head of the marketing team. And the head of the marketing team might make a decision about a new campaign without consulting the head of the finance department. This lack of transparency between departments is suboptimal at best. In some instances, it could even be disastrous.

Employees at decentralized organizations may also feel as though they’re left in the dark with respect to how and why decisions are made. Because different department heads, managers, and team leaders can make decisions on their own, it can seem as though their companies lack direction and focus.

For these reasons, in order to succeed, decentralized organizations need to embrace a culture of transparency. In doing so, they can shatter the communications gaps that exist between different departmental silos. At the same time, they can keep their employees up-to-date about where the organization is headed and why decisions are being made.

So how exactly can a decentralized organization become more transparent?


1. Build transparency in at the team level

In decentralized organizations, different teams might not interact with one another so frequently. This can make transparency a problem. Engineers, for example, might grow to believe that what’s going on in the engineering department is privileged information. Marketers might feel the same way and so on.

One of the easiest ways to encourage transparency at a decentralized organization is to build it into the foundation of every team. Managers should tell their teams about the virtues of transparency and how important it is for the success of the organization. When employees are educated on the importance of transparency and encouraged to be transparent themselves, engineers and marketers will begin discussing everything their teams are working on whenever they run into each other at the coffee machine.  


2. Establish a company-wide open-door policy

Transparency starts with being approachable. If your employees feel as though you’re hiding something from them, there’s a good chance they won’t be completely forthcoming with you all of the time.

Want your decentralized organization to be more transparent? Encourage every manager who has their own office to keep their doors open at all times. This allows employees to pop into their boss’s offices whenever a question materializes — which sure beats feeling as though you can’t approach your boss about anything.


3. Send regular newsletters updating staff on key issues

Shattering departmental silos within decentralized organizations can be tricky. But it’s not impossible.

Choose someone to be responsible for sending out a weekly or biweekly newsletter highlighting all of the more-pressing developments that occurred over the last few days, as well as any news about what employees can expect moving forward. Have each department head email that person a rundown of what’s going on with their respective teams: what they’re working on, whether there are any new hires, and details about any “wins” that may have occurred recently.

Newsletters are an easy way to show your entire team exactly what’s going on in their organization in an understandable way.


4. Use collaborative technologies

Thanks to the evolution of technology, it’s easier than ever to keep employees on the same page — even if they’re working out of different states or countries.

If you want transparency at your organization, utilize collaboration platforms that enable employees to communicate with one another both in real time and asynchronously. These platforms allow employees to scroll back and see what other workers were talking about when they were away from their computers. This makes transparency incredibly easy, as digital conversations are held right in the open and are retrievable.


5. Spend time with your team outside of work

If you want to build a truly open and trustworthy team, spend some time with your staff outside of the office. The traditional company happy hour can do the trick. If you want to get a little more creative, go on a weekend retreat somewhere inspiring.

Getting to know your staff on a personal basis — and letting them get to know you too — should help build stronger relationships. There’s more to life than work. Teams that embrace that axiom often achieve better results because they develop a strong sense of camaraderie — which is nothing to take lightly, considering that coworkers are the number one thing employees like about their jobs, according to our engagement report.

There are many reasons why organizations are choosing to be decentralized. But after such a decision is made, it is critical that managers and executives build transparency into their organizations at every level. Not only does transparency increase performance, trust, and accountability, it also encourages all employees to feel as though they own at least a sliver of their companies and the decisions that are made.



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