Why It Is Important To Create An Open Environment (And How It Help People To Succeed)

A big part of my focus this year is about people.

As I moved into a new role that requires me to manage people, I have to say that it is very different from what I used to do.

Before managing people, it was about me.

The ability to sprint through tasks and getting it done right was all that it matters. My success depends on how fast I can execute.

The goal remains pretty much the same – except for now that it is not about me, it is about us. Our success depends on how fast can the team maneuver and sprint through tasks while getting it right.

Why Creating An Open Environment IS IMPORTANT

While it looks really simple where you changed the “me” to “us”, but in reality, it is an extremely complex scenario. The most important realization that I had was that I am no longer work in silo, but I am responsible in driving the team to work together to achieve more.

I’ve always believed in creating an open & transparent culture where feedback is encouraged. Only through an open environment, we will be able to assess ourselves concurrently to see if we are going in the right direction. This was my intention when I moved onto this new role to manage a team of 6.

6 months down the road and here is what I observed:

  • They are now voicing out more compared to 6 months before
  • They are becoming more proactive in tackling solutions with very minimal supervision from me
  • There are always on-going discussions about how to make things better entirely led by the team
  • They are not afraid to admit their mistake and most importantly learned the lesson and not repeat it
  • They smile & take pride in their work (probably the point that I am happiest with)

As much as I strive for productivity, I believe that it is only an output of being happy in what you do. As long as people feel valued and happy with their achievements, productivity will follow suit, in fact, innovation will follow as well.

So this post is about a collection of what happened throughout the 6 months journey – the good and the bad.

1. Treat Them Like How You Want to be treated

The way you treat people speaks a lot about you. The way you handle things shows your integrity and your value.

As I wanted to create an honest and open environment where direct feedback is encouraged, here is what I did:

  • I was open about the programme’s success & failures
  • I honor my promises – say it like you mean it
  • Involve the team in key projects and empower them to make decisions

It’s about being genuine, authentic and sincere.

I really believed in the programmes that we launched and at the same time, I recognized that I can’t do this alone.

I started to involve them and they were encouraged to make decisions. Whenever they have issues or unable to make the call, we would run through each option and see which is deemed the best.

By doing so, it not only empowers them on the accountability, more importantly, they feel appreciated.

I was never stingy with the praises and I occasionally run mini-challenges to drive some fun. The infamous Starbucks treat to the whole team when the team didn’t update their task sheet or mini-challenges on selling out X SKUs in Y days.

All these helped to create fun and most importantly the trust that bonds us together because everyone is accountable.

2. To create an open environment, first, you need to Be Open-minded

I am not always right, I learned that the hard way.

I remember that there was this coupon module discussion where the team insists that it needs to be combined together where I disagree. It didn’t go well for the first few discussions, but on the fourth one, they managed to convince me and technical team.

There are two points to this:

  • They really strive and insist on their solution (which is a good point)
  • I wasn’t really listening on the first few discussions until later

This event has led me to reflect on how open-minded I was about their suggestions.

It is crucial to recognize that for a team to excel and work together closely, we need to be open to feedback.

What was your reaction when someone told you that your programme sucks?

It means you are not being defensive and we can facilitate productive discussions with the intention to improve. Listening to feedback helps you to assess if you are moving in the right direction.

And this starts with me being really open-minded to their suggestions. Always listen with the intent to understand, not to reply.

3. It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

This is about helping them to succeed in their job.

When I was working alone, I was able to maneuver really quick through these tasks, but that doesn’t mean my team is able to do. So to support them, I spent most of my time laying down the groundwork for them to excel.

It could be things like:

  • Speaking with other HODs for buy-ins
  • Getting the specific budget for their projects
  • Supporting them by appearing in meetings
  • Running through internal reviews and validate their ideas

All these took me a big chunk of time where most often than not, I find it hard to work on my priorities i.e. the tasks that only I can do.

My Typical Calendar

By showing them how it is done properly helped to refine their focus and really pave way for them to be good at what they do.

As a HOD, it is my duty to figure out how to support them in ways that they can shine the most.

It’s about making sure your team is happy with what they do as a result, you would be able to amplify the productivity.

4. be the last one to speak

Most people don’t realize that the higher you go, the comments that you casually make would sound like an instruction to your team.

The best leaders are the ones that learn to be the last to speak – Simon Sinek

It is always easy to jump onto the problem directly, but by doing so, I risk sacrificing the opportunity of my team to grow and learn.

This is why it is important to learn to speak last where I only respond after listening to everyone.

Only after you get an overall feedback on everyone’s thoughts you will be able to make appropriate choices.

As the objective here is to ensure an open, honest and direct environment, speaking last helped me a lot.

6 months down with happy faces

“Hey Carl, I think your team is probably the happiest team in the company.”

That statement above came from my superior, while it was quite random but it sparked something.

Despite the ever-growing workload, everyone was still smiling and chatty during work.

They took pride in what they do and they believed in what they do.

It was so different compared to 6 months ago where they feel insecure and scared.

6 months down the road – they are pro-active in finding solutions. They started to lead several initiatives while getting the team involved in providing feedback. They learned how to leverage on each other’s strength.

Most important of all, they are happy with what they do (at least from what I see)

I can’t help but feel fortunate to work with these people, thank you for giving me this opportunity to work with you, and let’s keep pushing for things to happen.

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