Effective Communication: Why is Transparency Important?
October 11, 2021
by Greg Henson, President, Sioux Falls Seminary; David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary
Let’s continue our conversation about transparency by looking at why it is important! Last time, we shared a bit about why communication is so difficult by highlighting the fact that organizations tend to focus on institutional existence, their cultural understanding of blessing muddies the waters, and they often have a broken relationship with money.
If transparency is so difficult and if being transparent may not always result in the “blessing” we want for a school, then why put so much emphasis on transparent communication?
We believe there are at least three reasons: 1) We see it in Scripture, 2) It builds trust, and 3) It fosters organizational alignment.
We See It in Scripture
We see several passages in Scripture where Jesus invites those around him to be transparent in their communication. Paul does the same in his letters. One of the best examples, in our opinion, is Acts 15. We don’t often see this passage through the lens of transparent communication, but let’s take a closer look. The conversation, as you may recall, sparked the question of circumcision. The proverbial “minutes” of the meeting are recorded in Acts 15. In the context of transparent communication, there are two verses that stand out.
First, in verse 12, we read that “the whole assembly became silent…,” and then in verse 22, we read that “…the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided…”
While we don’t know exactly how many people were “in the room” so to speak, but we do know that the conversation was in front of the assembly and that the whole church was part of the decision-making process. To put it another way, it was an “open board meeting.” The topic at hand was contentious, even scandalous. And yet, the Jerusalem church chose to be open in its discussions. Perhaps we could do the same?
It Builds Trust
Trust is a key ingredient for organizational effectiveness. When we are truthful in our communication and refrain from being opaque, the members of the community have a shared awareness of what is happening and how the organization is discerning its next steps. It is important to note that building trust will take time, which means transparent communication must be practiced consistently over a long period of time. This is especially true when a community welcomes new people on a relatively regular basis. Within Kairos, we welcome new students and mentors every month. We also welcome new partners on a regular basis. Over the past two years, we have even welcomed new full-time staff and faculty. That’s a lot of new names, faces, stories, and relationships!
The early church was also welcoming new people on a regular basis. Its practice of transparency built trust across a wide range of people groups and geographic locations – enough trust that Paul could eventually conduct a collection for the Jerusalem church.
It Fosters Organizational Alignment
Trust is an important foundation for organizational effectiveness. Without it, any community will struggle to work well together. However, without alignment, trust becomes less effective. Trust is important, but if the members of an organization are not “pulling the rope in the same direction,” so to speak, the organization will become stagnant. It will cease to be lively, active, and discerning. Transparency fosters organizational alignment because it empowers members of the organization to become more aware of everything that is going on. When everyone can access the same information, people can gain a broader and deeper understanding of what is happening – even in areas where they don’t spend most of their time and energy.
Of course, with the volume of information that is available to be shared, how does a movement like Kairos keep from overwhelming people with transparent communication? To put it another way, how do we keep our commitment to transparency from becoming a commitment to bombarding people with a flood of content that is impossible to digest?
When our communication devolves into a belief that “sharing everything” is the same as “being transparent,” we run the risk of eroding trust (because people miss important pieces of information and, therefore, begin to feel as though things are being hidden) or of enabling misalignment (because there is simply too much information to digest so people just ignore what is being said).
Our current solution to this tension between “sharing everything” and “being transparent” is to engage in three specific practices of transparent communication. That will be our focus for next week!