Top 3 honesty tactics that build stronger teams

09 Aug 2021 5 min read

Written by

Alina Luchian

I recently came across Brandon Frere's quote on what makes a great team "The keys to improving teamwork are vulnerability, honesty, openness, being present, and being aware" and it prompted me to think of how that translates in our team. Over the years we have witnessed (or made) mistakes, and while dealing with all of them there was a sense of transparency, teamwork, and safety. After further exploration of the subject, I realized that it's not the case in all organizations. In this article, I'll do my best to outline "the recipe" from our team.

It starts with the organizational culture

When I joined XWiki, I was told that openly talking about your less-than-perfect decisions can be one of the best moves you make as a professional. A junior, I didn't correctly appreciate the advice at the time, but after a few years and countless opportunities to see it in action I now understand how important that is - both to myself and the team I work with. Your transparency can reveal opportunities for positive action and strengthen the sense of accountability for everyone.

As Nicoleta eloquently said it "we have sought to build our internal communications on the very philosophy we operate: encourage initiative, ownership, free-thinking, and communication". This is not something we wrote some years ago to make ourselves look good on the website or in a branding book, it can be seen through our interactions. Our main values have shaped our working culture and all the interactions with XWiki's users: Transparency, Openness, Collaboration, Meritocracy, Leadership, Excellence, and Gratitude. For XWiki SAS it translates into:

1. Bringing out the leader in everyone
2. Building better and stronger relationships
3. Building trust within the team and with our customers
4. Showing ownership and self-satisfaction when constantly doing the right thing
5. Creating a stable and consistent workplace - especially now that we're working remotely

So... why wouldn't you admit you’re wrong?

Social psychologist, Leon Festinger, explains in his theory of cognitive dissonancethe discomfort that arises when we hold two contradictory thoughts or beliefs in our minds at once – might explain why people are so hesitant to admit their wrongs. When people experience cognitive dissonance, they have one of two options:

  • They either double down on their initial belief in what is known as ‘confirmation bias’ (i.e., they solely focus on the evidence that reaffirms their original position) or
  • They modify their self-concept to integrate the new thought with the contradictory old one.

Obviously, most people veer towards the first option. It's the one that makes you feel better about yourself. I've probably done it thousand times, consciously or not, and you most likely did it in the past month as well - and that's because we want the comforting route that preserves our sense of identity. However, when it doesn't only involve you and your ego, honesty is far better. 

What are the tactics you can use to foster honesty?

1. Prioritize psychological safety

People need to feel secure enough in their workplace to take a leap of faith, knowing that the consequences of a new approach going pear-shaped won’t have drastic consequences for their career. Rather, a healthier and more productive approach is to view mistakes as valuable learning opportunities. An approach of accepting mistakes also flattens an organization’s hierarchy. It breeds a culture where it’s alright to make mistakes and encourages others further down the hierarchy to feel comfortable in doing the same.

2. Encourage a growth mindset

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck coined the term ‘growth mindset’ to describe people who believe their skills and abilities can always improve. They enjoy learning, look out for new challenges and see failure as a chance to learn from mistakes rather than a disaster. Fostering an environment where people can openly admit their wrongdoings and simply take them as lessons learned builds on this mindset, encouraging them to evolve and better themselves. 

3. Lead by example

Last, but not least, the important vector of change is showing rather than telling - essentially practicing what you preach. As Jim Whitehurst beautifully said it: "In short, being accessible, answering questions, admitting mistakes, and saying you’re sorry aren’t liabilities. They are exactly the tools you can use to build your credibility and authority to lead". People are looking for workplaces that not only sell products and services but also make their world better, brighter, or more meaningful in some way. 

When it comes to ethics in business, you must start with one question: what do the people in it expect?


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