Most of us have metrics we use to measure how well we are doing in our professional roles. Many of us in the IT field even have Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that we keep with our customers. But what about you as the leader of your team? Do you have metrics that measure how well you are doing with your team, SLAs with them to make sure you have their best interest at hand?
Three Pillars to Building Relationships
On my journey to becoming a better leader, I realized it was about taking care of my team first. If I did that my customers and organization would all be in great hands. So, I came up with three tools to add to my leadership tool box: transparency, clarity, and trust.
They have become my three foundational pillars to building relationships with my teams. All three are based on communication, understanding, and caring. They may sound obvious, everyone should know them. But how often do you actually use them regularly and effectively?
I use these as my SLA with my teams. In fact, we have this agreement with each other (manager to team member) making it a two-way agreement. We talk about these pillars regularly in team and individual meetings.
Looking back at previous organizations I worked for, one of the most frustrating things people would say was they didn’t know what was going on. This was not only true from a company perspective but all the way down to department and team levels. This was very disturbing to me to think anyone would be hiding information from their people. As I looked more into this, I found lack of transparency did not usually happen intentionally, although sometimes it did. What really happens is employees do not ask, and leadership does not always think to tell. One of the agreements I make with my team is to keep them in the loop as much as possible. I rarely hear from my team that they don’t know what is going on.
Employees do not ask, and leadership does not always think to tell.
No, a leader cannot always tell their team everything. But you can make sure they know what’s going on most of the time. Unless I am told specifically not to say anything about a certain subject, I usually share it with my team. In fact, my boss trusts me enough to usually share just about everything with my team that does not breach confidentiality or topics not yet ready to be shared publicly.
You need to know where the boundaries are in your organization. In fact if my teams ask about something I cannot talk about (because we have that relationship) I tell them exactly that. “Sorry I can’t tell you about XZY, at least not yet.” Other times, I will tell them things (not too secret of course) and say “Listen, this is for your ears only.” See I have to trust them and let them know I trust them, give them a chance to be “in the know” ahead of time if they can keep it within our group. If they slip, I take the blame.
So for those of you in the organization not in the know, just ask. You never know what you might find out. If people are good leaders, they will share information with you most of the time. Be understanding if they cannot tell you, but start that relationship with your leaders. They might just not think to tell you.
As I continued down this new road I found I really needed to be clear. Being transparent is great, but if you do not clarify, something you say might not be received as you intended. When you are not clear, you leave room for ambiguity and assumption. It is a good idea to ask the person, making sure they understand by having them tell you in their words what you shared.
When meeting with my teams both individually and as a group, I try to be very clear with my expectations. I try to clearly tell each person what I expect from them, if they have areas they need to improve or assignment details they need to deliver. I also try tell them when they are being successful so they know what to continue doing. Notice several times I said “try.” No one is perfect, and I know providing clarity is an area where I always strive to improve. I do not like sending people mixed or misleading messages, I tell them to the point what I mean. Lack of clarity often leads to misunderstanding, and many performance evaluations are unnecessarily negatively impacted by this.
Transparency and clarity are two pillars I use to help build trust. Trust is something you earn by showing your teams you are there for them. If they see I am not transparent and hiding information from them, they will most certainly not trust me.
Just the same, if I tell them something and do not provide enough clarity, something unintended can happen. In this case, if I do not take the blame, and instead throw them under the proverbial bus, my team will lose trust as well. One way to help prevent this is to follow up with an email stating what you want them to know. Read it to yourself before you send it and see if the message sounds like what you want them to hear.
There are certainly more ways to build trust. Providing transparency and clarity are just two that will pave an easier path down that road.
- Be transparent, let you team know what is going on. Even if you know things may change. Tell them you may just be brainstorming, they might be able to help you.
- Deliver a clear message. Make sure what you intended is what they heard. Write it down and read it before sending the message.
- Build trust with your teams by being honest and clear. Share what you can and make sure to not blame them for misunderstandings.
Metrics and SLAs
I set SLAs for myself as a manager:
- I will be as transparent with my teams as I possibly can. This means I will share any information with them that impacts them, our team, and our customers.
- I will provide each person on my team with clear and concise information. I provide them information, details, and instructions verbally and written and have them ask if they do not understand.
- I will build trust by owning up to any non-transparent or unclear information provided to them.
This is hard because these agreements are very subjective, I know. BUT…
I measure how well I am doing by noting when someone has to ask for clarity. I try to explain better and provide more details in writing. To measure transparency, I note when someone comes to me when they did not know something whether in a meeting, one-on-one, or at the water cooler.
I hope this information helps people to build better teams by setting SLAs with their teams around transparency, clarity, and trust. Feel free to reach out to me for any clarification you need me to provide about this article.
Thomas Wilk is an IT manager at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has become a performance improvement leader, helping employees find their way along their career path. As a mentor to managers, he helps them develop leadership skills so they can better engage with their staff. Tom has a bachelor’s degree in Information Science and is currently working towards a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in the Public Management program. To see more from Tom, visit
his YouTube channel , and follow him on Twitter @spiller150.